Cellular changes were immunocytochemically characterized in skin vessels of five patients with idiopathic generalized racemose livedo (Sneddon's syndrome), and one patient with localized racemose livedo associated with essential thrombocythaemia. Antibodies against alpha-smooth muscle-actin, tropomyosin, desmin, vimentin, factor VIII-related antigen, human endothelial cells (CD31), human macrophages (CD68), and HLA-DR positive cells (CR3/43) were used. Conventional light microscopy showed, in all cases, intimal thickening of ascending arteries and arterioles as a result of an accumulation of cells and extracellular hyalinized material. None of the specimens showed infiltration with polymorphonuclear leucocytes or macrophages. The cells in the region of the intimal hyperplasia showed intense positive immunostaining for alpha-smooth muscle actin and tropomyosin. Staining for the intermediate filament desmin was localized to the resident smooth muscle cells of the media, whereas staining for vimentin was found in all types of cells in both the intima and media. Positive immunostaining for factor VIII-related antigen and CD31 was strictly confined to the endothelial cells lining the narrowed lumina of the vessels. No positive staining with either antibody was observed in totally occluded vessels. Cells in the subintimal space did not show reactivity for CD68 in any of the specimens, but two cases showed solitary cells with positive staining for HLA-DR in this region. There were no differences in staining pattern between Sneddon's syndrome and essential thrombocythaemia with any of the antibodies. Our results support the assumption that the 'intimal proliferation' in both diseases is caused by colonization of the subendothelial space with contractile cells of possible smooth muscle origin.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS
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