Compelling evidence shows the involvement of plasmacytoid dendritic cells (pDCs) in systemic sclerosis (SSc) pathogenesis. This study investigated whether microRNAs (miRNAs) are involved in the dysregulation of pDCs in SSc patients already at early stages. RNA from circulating pDCs was isolated from two independent cohorts of SSc patients with different disease phenotypes, and individuals with Raynaud's phenomenon, for microRNA profiling and RNA-sequencing analysis. Proteomic analysis was exploited to identify novel direct miRNA targets at the protein level. Twelve and fifteen miRNAs were differentially expressed in at least one group of patients compared to healthy controls in discovery cohort I and II, respectively. Of note, miR-126 and miR-139-5p were upregulated in both preclinical and definite SSc patients and correlated with the expression of type I interferon (IFN)-responsive genes. Toll-like receptor 9 (TLR9) stimulation of healthy pDCs upregulated the expression of both miRNAs, similarly to what was observed in patients. The proteomic analysis identified USP24 as a novel target of miR-139-5p. The expression level of USP24 was inversely correlated with miR-139-5p expression in SSc patients and induced by TLR9 stimulation in healthy pDCs. These findings demonstrated that the miRNA profile is altered in pDCs of SSc patients already at early stages of the disease and indicate their potential contribution to pDC activation observed in patients.
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