We have studied endothelin-1 (ET-1) levels and ET-1 ligand and receptor tissue expression in scleroderma renal crisis (SRC) and undertaken a pilot open label safety study of bosentan, a non-selective ET-1 receptor antagonist, in SRC [Bosentan in Renal Disease-1 (BIRD-1)].
Serum levels of ET-1 were measured in healthy controls (n = 20) or systemic sclerosis (SSc) (n = 80) with or without SRC, including cases of pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH). Renal biopsies (n = 27) from patients with SRC were stained for endothelin ligand and receptors. Six cases of SRC received 6 months bosentan. Outcome measures were compared with SRC cases managed at our centre from 2000 to 2004 (n = 49).
Serum ET-1 was elevated in SRC but less than in PAH. ET-1 and both endothelin A and endothelin B receptor expression was increased in SRC biopsies in glomeruli, interstitium and hallmark vascular lesions of SRC. In the BIRD-1 cohort, serum ET-1 was elevated in all cases at SRC (median healthy controls 0.50 pg/ml; SRC 1.48 pg/ml; P < 0.0005), and increased further with bosentan therapy (1.46 vs. 3.05 pg/ml; t-test P < 0.05). Bosentan was well tolerated with no significant drug-related serious adverse events and long-term outcomes were favourable compared with historic cases. Three patients developed rebound hypertension on withdrawal of bosentan and one appeared to further benefit from maintenance therapy.
Upregulation of ET-1 ligand axis suggests that ET-1 receptor blockade is logical and treatment with bosentan appears to be safe in SRC. Future studies to assess therapeutic benefit and compare selective or non-selective receptor antagonists are justified.