OBJECTIVE: The modified Rodnan skin score (mRSS) remains the preferred method for skin assessment in systemic sclerosis (SSc). There are concerns regarding high inter-observer variability of mRSS and negative clinical trials utilising mRSS as the primary endpoint. High frequency ultrasound (HFUS) allows objective assessment of cutaneous fibrosis in SSc. We investigated the relationship between HFUS with both mRSS and dermal collagen.
METHODS: Skin thickness (ST), echogenicity and novel Shear wave elastography (SWE) were assessed in 53 SSc patients and 15 healthy controls (HC) at the finger, hand, forearm and abdomen. The relationship between HFUS parameters with mRSS (n=53) and dermal collagen (10 SSc patients and 10 HC) was investigated. Intra-observer repeatability of HFUS was calculated using intra-class correlation coefficients (ICCs).
RESULTS: HFUS assessment of ST (hand/forearm) and SWE (finger/hand) correlated with local mRSS at some sites. Subclinical abnormalities in ST, echogenicity and SWE were present in clinically uninvolved SSc skin. Additionally, changes in echogenicity and SWE were sometimes apparent despite objectively normal ST on HFUS. ST, SWE and local mRSS correlated strongly with collagen quantification (rho 0.697, 0.709, 0.649 respectively). Intra-observer repeatability was high for all HFUS parameters (ICCs for ST 0.946-0.978, echogenicity 0.648- 0.865 and SWE 0.953-0.973).
CONCLUSION: Our data demonstrates excellent reproducibility and reassuring convergent validity with dermal collagen content. Detection of subclinical abnormalities is an additional benefit of HFUS. The observed correlations with collagen quantification support further investigation of HFUS as an alternative to mRSS in clinical trial settings.