The skin of patients with scleroderma is characterized by an excess accumulation of collagen in the extracellular matrix of the fibrotic reticular dermis. Elastic fibers are also disrupted in this disease, however, in contrast to collagen, relatively few studies have provided information concerning the changes that occur to elastic fiber components in scleroderma. In the present study, the extracellular matrix in scleroderma skin was examined with a specific focus on the integrity of elastic fibers. Electron microscopic observations confirmed an excess of 10 nm microfibrils present in small bundles independent of amorphous elastin in the fibrotic reticular dermis. In the same area, a population of stellate-shaped fibroblasts was identified in close association with the dermal elastic fibers. In contrast to the uniform black appearance of the elastic fibers seen in the papillary dermis and in areas of the reticular dermis not infiltrated by these cells, the elastic fibers apposed to the cells were mottled in density and often almost electron-lucent. These observations suggest that the elastic fibers in the reticular dermis were being actively degraded. Results from this study provide evidence for disintegration of elastic fibers in the skin of scleroderma patients and suggest the possibility that degradation products from the elastic matrix in the diseased tissues may act as a feedback signal for increased matrix production.