Researchers hope that the work will ultimately lead to new treatments.
In some women, scleroderma, a potentially life-threatening skin disease that can affect joints and internal organs, may be linked to long-dormant fetal cells stirring an immune system reaction.
Sergio Jimenez, M.D., Dorrance H. Hamilton Professor of Medicine and professor of biochemistry and molecular pharmacology, and his colleagues at Jefferson Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, have found evidence suggesting that fetal cells bringing about graft-versus-host-disease (GVHD) reactions may be involved in some cases of systemic sclerosis, a form of scleroderma, an autoimmune disease. Systemic sclerosis strikes about three to eight times more women than men, usually between the ages of 45 and 55. GVHD is a sometimes dangerous complication seen when the bodys immune system rejects a bone marrow transplant.
"Whats unusual is that in classic chronic graft-versus-host disease, the clinical picture looks like scleroderma. The skin becomes hard and thick," Dr. Jimenez says. "These findings may open up some potentially new and important avenues in the treatment of scleroderma." He and his colleagues report their findings April 23 in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Dr. Jimenez and his co-workers examined 69 women with
systemic sclerosis who had been pregnant for the presence of
the male-specific Y chromosome. A female fetal cell would be
virtually impossible to detect with current technology, he
points out. They found male DNA in the blood of 32, or 46
percent, of the women. The Y chromosome DNA was present in
only one of 25 normal women. The scientists also found Y
chromosome sequences in skin biopsies in 11 of 19, or 58
percent, of the women tested. Nine of the 11 wom
Contact: Steve Benowitz
Thomas Jefferson University