Skin blood flow was measured by the clearance of radioactive xenon (133Xe) injected intracutaneously in eight patients with scleroderma and nine control subjects under conditions of controlled temperature and humidity. Scleroderma patients, on being cooled 1 hr at 18°C, had a rate constant of 133Xe clearance from the dorsal finger skin which was 0.04 ±0.07 min-1 (mean ±SD), compared with 0.23 ±0.15 min-1 in normal subjects (P < 0.005). The corresponding mean cutaneous blood flows were 2.9 ml/100 g per min in the scleroderma patients and 16.4 ml/100 g per min in normal subjects. After reflex warming by waterbath, clearance was similar in the two groups (0.33 ±0.1 vs. 0.40 ±0.09); these data suggest that diminished clearance in scleroderma patients on cooling resulted, at least in part, from functional or reversible interruption of the circulation. The skin temperatures of scleroderma patients after reflex warming remained lower than those of normal subjects, despite similar increases in sublingual temperatures. The dissociation of 133Xe clearance and skin temperature in scleroderma patients (i.e. subnormal skin temperatures with normal 133Xe clearance after reflex warming) suggests either abnormal thermal properties of scleroderma skin or selective vasoconstriction of the vessels which regulate heat exchange. The demonstrated interruption of the capillary circulation on cooling of the skin in patients with scleroderma may be important in the pathogenesis of this disorder. After oral pretreatment with guanethidine, five patients with scleroderma had increased 133Xe clearance and calculated blood flow on cooling, rising to normal in three of these patients. The potential of this technique for the quantitative sequential evaluation of skin blood flow in subjects with scleroderma and for the evaluation of empirical therapy is suggested.


E. Carwile LeRoy, John A. Downey, Paul J. Cannon


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