Increased endothelin activity may play a role in the pathogenesis of vascular injury, a primary feature of systemic sclerosis (SSc; scleroderma). Our goal was to test the hypothesis that treatment with the oral endothelin receptor antagonist bosentan might improve vascular endothelial function in SSc patients.
A 4-week, prospective, parallel-group study compared 12 SSc patients who did not receive bosentan treatment with 12 patients who did receive treatment (125 mg/day) for pulmonary hypertension and/or digital ulcers. There were no differences in demographic and clinical characteristics or medications between the 2 groups. Baseline endothelial dysfunction was documented by decreased brachial artery ultrasound-derived flow-mediated dilation (FMD%; <5.5). Pulse wave analysis, venous occlusion plethysmography, and measurement of serum vascular markers were performed in parallel.
FMD%, the main end point, increased significantly from a mean +/- SD of 3.1 +/- 1.3% to 8.4 +/- 2.6% after 4 weeks of bosentan treatment (P < 0.001, compared with a change from 2.4 +/- 1.6% to 2.4 +/- 2.2% in control patients). Arterial blood pressure, endothelium-independent vascular function, augmentation index, peripheral flow reserve, as well as circulating intercellular adhesion molecule 1, E-selectin, vascular endothelial growth factor, and endothelin 1 were not significantly affected by bosentan treatment. In patients continuously treated for 4 months, during which the dosage of bosentan remained at 125 mg/day (n = 5) or increased to 250 mg/day (n = 5), the 4-week results remained unchanged.
Small doses of bosentan improve endothelial function without affecting hemodynamic parameters or endothelial activation-related processes, thus supporting a direct, reversible effect of endothelin in SSc-associated vascular injury. A long-term, controlled trial to examine the potentially global clinical benefit of endothelin receptor blockade in patients with early SSc may be warranted.