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Clinical and Developmental Immunology
Volume 12, Issue 3, Pages 165-173

New Therapeutic Strategies for Systemic Sclerosis—a Critical Analysis of the Literature

1Department of Medicine B and Center for Autoimmune Diseases, Sheba Medical Center, Sackler Faculty of Medicine, Tel-Aviv University, Tel-Hashomer, Israel
2Department of Medicine F and the Rheumatology Unit, Sheba Medical Center, Sackler Faculty of Medicine, Tel-Aviv University, Tel-Hashomer, Israel

Copyright © 2005 Hindawi Publishing Corporation. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Systemic sclerosis (SSc) is a multi-system disease characterized by skin fibrosis and visceral disease. Therapy is organ and pathogenesis targeted. In this review, we describe novel strategies in the treatment of SSc. Utilizing the MEDLINE and the COCHRANE REGISTRY, we identified open trials, controlled trials, for treatment of SSc from 1999 to April 2005. We used the terms scleroderma, systemic sclerosis, Raynaud's phenomenon, pulmonary hypertension, methotrexate, cyclosporin, tacrolimus, relaxin, low-dose penicillamine, IVIg, calcium channel blockers, losartan, prazocin, iloprost, N-acetylcysteine, bosentan, cyclophosphamide, lung transplantation, ACE inhibitors, anti-thymocyte globulin, and stem cell transplantation. Anecdotal reports were omitted.

Methotrexate, cyclosporin, tacrolimus, relaxin, low-dose penicillamine, and IVIg may be beneficial in improving the skin tightness in SSc. Calcium channel blockers, the angiotensin II receptor type 1 antagonist losartan, prazocin, the prostacyclin analogue iloprost, N-acetylcysteine and the dual endothelin-receptor antagonist bosentan may be beneficial for Raynaud's phenomenon. Epoprostenol and bosentan are approved for therapy of pulmonary hypertension (PAH). Other options under investigation include intravenous or aerolized iloprost. Cyclophosphamide (CYC) pulse therapy is effective in suppressing active alveolitis. Stem cell and lung transplantation is a viable option for carefully selected patients. Renal crisis can be effectively managed when hypertension is aggressively controlled with angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors. Patients should continue taking ACE inhibitors even after beginning dialysis in hope of discontinuing dialysis. Anti-thymocyte globulin and mycophenolate mofetil appear safe in SSc. The improvement in skin score and the apparent stability of systemic disease during the treatment period suggest that controlled studies of these agents are justified. Stem cell transplantation is under investigation for severe disease. Novel therapies are currently being tested in the treatment of SSc and have the potential of modifying the disease process and overall clinical outcome. The evaluation of these studies is still a difficult process.