Skin fibroblasts from subjects with scleroderma and control subjects were grown in tissue culture to compare the characteristics of connective tissue metabolism. A striking increase in soluble collagen (media hydroxyproline) was observed in eight of nine scleroderma cultures when they were compared with identically handled control cultures matched for the age and sex of the donor and the anatomic site of the donor skin. Glycoprotein content as estimated by hexosamine and sialic acid was also significantly increased in the scleroderma cultures. Estimations of protein-polysaccharide content by uronic acid determinations were low in all cultures and not significantly increased in scleroderma cultures.
This report demonstrates the feasibility of using fibroblast cell cultures to study chronic rheumatic and connective tissue disorders. The initial results suggest a net increase in collagen and glycoprotein synthesis in scleroderma fibroblast cultures. The implications of an abnormality of connective tissue metabolism by skin fibroblasts propagated in vitro in the acquired disorder scleroderma are discussed.