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1.  Influence of prior pregnancies on disease course and cause of death in systemic sclerosis 
Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases  2002;61(4):346-350.
Background: Microchimerism from fetal or maternal cells transferred during pregnancy has been implicated in the pathogenesis of systemic sclerosis (SSc).
Objective: To determine whether a prior pregnancy influenced disease progression and cause of death in patients with SSc.
Patients and methods: The patients comprised a retrospective study cohort of 111 women with SSc: 78 patients with prior pregnancies (PP) and 33 who were never pregnant (NP), followed up at Thomas Jefferson University. Differences in age at onset, disease subset, organ involvement, cause of death, and type of antinuclear autoantibodies were evaluated statistically, including regression analysis.
Results: The age at onset of SSc in NP patients was 32.0 years compared with 45.7 years in patients with one or two prior pregnancies (p<0.0001), 46.6 years in patients with three or four pregnancies (p<0.0001), and 51.3 years in patients with five to seven pregnancies (p<0.0005). In the 16 patients who had an elective pregnancy termination, 14/16 (87.5%) had diffuse SSc v 2/16 (12.5%) with limited SSc (p<0.0001; odds ratio (OR)=49.0). Of the NP women, 7/30 (23%) died from SSc related causes v 3/78 (4%) women who had pregnancies (p=0.0058; OR=7.6). A carbon monoxide transfer factor (TLCO) of <60% and disease duration >10 years was found in 10/13 (77%) NP patients v 10/23 (43%) patients who had pregnancies (p=0.05; OR=4.7), and a TLCO <50% and disease duration >10 years was identified in 7/13 (54%) NP patients v 6/23 (26%) of the patients who had pregnancies (p=0.09; OR=3.2).
Conclusions: There are differences in the age at onset, clinical course, severity of lung involvement, and cause of death in women who develop SSc before pregnancy compared with those who develop it after pregnancies. The NP patients with SSc had onset of disease at an earlier age, more severe lung involvement, and higher rate of death due to SSc.
PMCID: PMC1754050  PMID: 11874839
2.  Separate Influences of Birth Order and Gravidity/Parity on the Development of Systemic Sclerosis 
Arthritis care & research  2010;62(3):418-424.
Birth order has been valuable in revealing the role of environmental influences on the risk of developing certain diseases such as allergy and atopy. In addition, pregnancy has profound effects on the immune system such as short-term effects that permit fetal survival as well as longer-term effects that could influence late-onset diseases. In order to better evaluate these influences, we studied the association of birth order and gravidity/parity as risk factors for systemic sclerosis (SSc; scleroderma).
Data regarding SSc cases and their unaffected sibling controls were obtained from the Scleroderma Family Registry and DNA Repository. The case-sibling design was used to minimize confounding due to differences in age, race, ethnicity, or calendar time. The gravidity/parity analysis was based on sibships with at least one SSc-affected and one unaffected sister.
Birth order was examined in 974 sibships, comparing SSc cases (n = 987) with their unaffected siblings (n = 3,088). The risk of scleroderma increased with increasing birth order (odds ratio [OR] 1.25, 95% confidence interval [95% CI] 1.06–1.50 for birth order 2–5; OR 2.22, 95% CI 1.57–3.15 for birth order 6–9; and OR 3.53, 95% CI 1.68–7.45 for birth order 10–15). Gravidity/parity was analyzed in 168 sibships (256 unaffected sisters, 172 SSc cases). We found an association between a history of one or more pregnancies and SSc (OR 2.8).
Birth order and pregnancy were independently associated with a higher risk of developing SSc. These findings suggest that immune development in early childhood and/or pregnancy-associated events, including but not limited to microchimerism, plays a role in SSc susceptibility.
PMCID: PMC2876718  PMID: 20391489
3.  Clinical risk assessment of organ manifestations in systemic sclerosis: a report from the EULAR Scleroderma Trials And Research group database 
Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases  2007;66(6):754-763.
Systemic sclerosis (SSc) is a multisystem autoimmune disease, which is classified into a diffuse cutaneous (dcSSc) and a limited cutaneous (lcSSc) subset according to the skin involvement. In order to better understand the vascular, immunological and fibrotic processes of SSc and to guide its treatment, the EULAR Scleroderma Trials And Research (EUSTAR) group was formed in June 2004.
Aims and methods
EUSTAR collects prospectively the Minimal Essential Data Set (MEDS) on all sequential patients fulfilling the American College of Rheumatology diagnostic criteria in participating centres. We aimed to characterise demographic, clinical and laboratory characteristics of disease presentation in SSc and analysed EUSTAR baseline visits.
In April 2006, a total of 3656 patients (1349 with dcSSc and 2101 with lcSSc) were enrolled in 102 centres and 30 countries. 1330 individuals had autoantibodies against Scl70 and 1106 against anticentromere antibodies. 87% of patients were women. On multivariate analysis, scleroderma subsets (dcSSc vs lcSSc), antibody status and age at onset of Raynaud's phenomenon, but not gender, were found to be independently associated with the prevalence of organ manifestations. Autoantibody status in this analysis was more closely associated with clinical manifestations than were SSc subsets.
dcSSc and lcSSc subsets are associated with particular organ manifestations, but in this analysis the clinical distinction seemed to be superseded by an antibody‐based classification in predicting some scleroderma complications. The EUSTAR MEDS database facilitates the analysis of clinical patterns in SSc, and contributes to the standardised assessment and monitoring of SSc internationally.
PMCID: PMC1954657  PMID: 17234652
4.  Serum TIMP-1, TIMP-2, and MMP-1 in patients with systemic sclerosis, primary Raynaud's phenomenon, and in normal controls 
Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases  2001;60(9):846-851.
BACKGROUND—Excess tissue matrix accumulates in systemic sclerosis (SSc), accounting for both visceral and dermal fibrosis. It is suggested that decreased serum levels of matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) or increased levels of tissue inhibitors of matrix metalloproteinases (TIMPs) may account for this matrix accumulation.
OBJECTIVE—To measure serum levels of tissue inhibitors of metalloproteinases, TIMP-1, TIMP-2, and collagenase-1 (MMP-1), in patients with diffuse cutaneous systemic sclerosis (dcSSc), limited cutaneous systemic sclerosis (lcSSc), primary Raynaud's phenomenon (RP), and in normal controls.
METHODS—Serum samples from patients with dcSSc (n=83), lcSSc (n=87), RP (n=80), and normal controls (n=98) were analysed using enzyme linked immunosorbent assays (ELISAs) for total TIMP-1, TIMP-2, and MMP-1. Results from each assay were analysed by the Kruskal-Wallis test. Dunn's multiple comparison post-test was then applied between groups.
RESULTS—TIMP-1 levels were significantly raised in dcSSc and lcSSc groups compared with the RP group and normal controls (p<0.01 to p<0.001). In the dcSSc group, TIMP-1 levels were significantly higher in early disease (<2 years) than in late stage disease (>4 years) (p<0.05). This was not found for the lcSSc group. Serum TIMP-2 and MMP-1 levels in dcSSc and lcSSc did not differ significantly from those in normal controls. Increased levels of TIMPs were not convincingly associated with organ disease. No assay result correlated with autoantibody status (anti-topoisomerase 1 (anti-Scl-70), anticentromere antibody, or anti-RNA polymerase). No significant differences in serum TIMP-1, TIMP-2, or MMP-1 levels were shown in the RP group compared with normal controls.
CONCLUSIONS—Raised TIMP-1 levels in the SSc groups support the hypothesis that matrix accumulation occurs in SSc at least in part owing to decreased degradation. Moreover, the variation in TIMP-1 levels between the early and late disease stages of dcSSc seems to reflect the early progressive course of dermal fibrosis seen clinically. The expected reduction in serum MMP-1 levels in the SSc groups was not found. This suggests that tissue matrix accumulation is due to increased inhibitors rather than to decreased MMPs.

PMCID: PMC1753839  PMID: 11502611
5.  Naturally acquired microchimerism 
Bi-directional transplacental trafficking occurs routinely during the course of normal pregnancy, from fetus to mother and from mother to fetus. In addition to a variety of cell-free substances, it is now well recognized that some cells are also exchanged. Microchimerism refers to a small number of cells (or DNA) harbored by one individual that originated in a genetically different individual. While microchimerism can be the result of iatrogenic interventions such as transplantation or transfusion, by far the most common source is naturally acquired microchimerism from maternal-fetal trafficking during pregnancy. Microchimerism is a subject of much current interest for a number of reasons. During pregnancy, fetal microchimerism can be sought from the mother’s blood for the purpose of prenatal diagnosis. Moreover, studies of fetal microchimerism during pregnancy may offer insight into complications of pregnancy, such as preeclampsia, as well as insights into the pathogenesis of autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis which usually ameliorates during pregnancy. Furthermore, it is now known that microchimerism persists decades later, both fetal microchimerism in women who have been pregnant and maternal microchimerism in her progeny. Investigation of the long-term consequences of fetal and maternal microchimerism is another exciting frontier of active study, with initial results pointing both to adverse and beneficial effects. This review will provide an overview of microchimerism during pregnancy and of current knowledge regarding long-term effects of naturally acquired fetal and maternal microchimerism.
PMCID: PMC2887685  PMID: 19924635
microchimerism; pregnancy; fetal-maternal trafficking; autoimmune disease
6.  Histopathological cutaneous alterations in systemic sclerosis: a clinicopathological study 
The aims of the present study were to identify histopathological parameters which are linked to local clinical skin disease at two distinct anatomical sites in systemic sclerosis (SSc) patients with skin involvement (limited cutaneous systemic sclerosis (lcSSc) or diffuse cutaneous systemic sclerosis (dcSSc)) and to determine the sensitivity of SSc specific histological alterations, focusing on SSc patients without clinical skin involvement (limited SSc (lSSc)).
Histopathological alterations were systematically scored in skin biopsies of 53 consecutive SSc patients (dorsal forearm and upper inner arm) and 18 controls (upper inner arm). Clinical skin involvement was evaluated using the modified Rodnan skin score. In patients with lcSSc or dcSSc, associations of histopathological parameters with local clinical skin involvement were determined by generalised estimation equation modelling.
The hyalinised collagen score, the myofibroblast score, the mean epidermal thickness, the mononuclear cellular infiltration and the frequency of focal exocytosis differed significantly between biopsies with and without local clinical skin involvement. Except for mononuclear cellular infiltration, all of the continuous parameters correlated with the local clinical skin score at the dorsal forearm. Parakeratosis, myofibroblasts and intima proliferation were present in a minority of the SSc biopsies, but not in controls. No differences were found between lSSc and controls.
Several histopathological parameters are linked to local clinical skin disease. SSc-specific histological alterations have a low diagnostic sensitivity.
PMCID: PMC3241379  PMID: 21356083
7.  A Possible Contribution of Altered Cathepsin B Expression to the Development of Skin Sclerosis and Vasculopathy in Systemic Sclerosis 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(2):e32272.
Cathepsin B (CTSB) is a proteolytic enzyme potentially modulating angiogenic processes and extracellular matrix remodeling. While matrix metalloproteinases are shown to be implicated in tissue fibrosis and vasculopathy associated with systemic sclerosis (SSc), the role of cathepsins in this disease has not been well studied. The aim of this study is to evaluate the roles of CTSB in SSc. Serum pro-CTSB levels were determined by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay in 55 SSc patients and 19 normal controls. Since the deficiency of transcription factor Fli1 in endothelial cells is potentially associated with the development of SSc vasculopathy, cutaneous CTSB expression was evaluated by immunostaining in Fli1+/− and wild type mice as well as in SSc and control subjects. The effects of Fli1 gene silencing and transforming growth factor-β (TGF-β) on CTSB expression were determined by real-time PCR in human dermal microvascular endothelial cells (HDMECs) and dermal fibroblasts, respectively. Serum pro-CTSB levels were significantly higher in limited cutaneous SSc (lcSSc) and late-stage diffuse cutaneous SSc (dcSSc) patients than in healthy controls. In dcSSc, patients with increased serum pro-CTSB levels showed a significantly higher frequency of digital ulcers than those with normal levels. CTSB expression in dermal blood vessels was increased in Fli1+/− mice compared with wild type mice and in SSc patients compared with healthy controls. Consistently, Fli1 gene silencing increased CTSB expression in HDMECs. In cultured dermal fibroblasts from early dcSSc, CTSB expression was decreased compared with normal fibroblasts and significantly reversed by TGF-β1 antisense oligonucleotide. In conclusion, up-regulation of endothelial CTSB due to Fli1 deficiency may contribute to the development of SSc vasculopathy, especially digital ulcers, while reduced expression of CTSB in lesional dermal fibroblasts is likely to be associated with skin sclerosis in early dcSSc.
PMCID: PMC3285678  PMID: 22384200
8.  L-selectin and Skin Damage in Systemic Sclerosis 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(9):e44814.
L-selectin ligands are induced on the endothelium of inflammatory sites. L-selectin expression on neutrophils and monocytes may mediate the primary adhesion of these cells at sites of inflammation by mediating the leukocyte-leukocyte interactions that facilitate their recruitment. L-selectin retains functional activity in its soluble form. Levels of soluble L-selectin have been reported as both elevated and lowered in patients with systemic sclerosis (SSc). This preliminary study seeks to discern amongst these disparate results and to discover whether there is an association between L-selectin concentrations in plasma and skin damage in SSc patients.
Methodology and Principal Findings
Nineteen cases with limited systemic sclerosis (lSSc) and 11 cases with diffuse systemic sclerosis (dSSc) were compared on a pairwise basis to age- and sex-matched controls. Criteria of the American College of Rheumatology were used to diagnose SSc. Skin involvement was assessed using the modified Rodnan skin score (mRSS). We find no association between mRSS and plasma L-selectin concentration in lSSc cases (p = 0.9944) but a statistically significant negative correlation in dSSc cases (R2 = 73.11 per cent, p = 0.0008). The interpretation of the slope for dSSc cases is that for each increase of 100 ng/ml in soluble L-selectin concentration, the mRSS drops 4.22 (95 per cent CI: 2.29, 6.16). There was also a highly statistically significant negative correlation between sL-selectin and disease activity (p = 0.0007) and severity (p = 0.0007) in dSSc cases but not in lSSc cases (p = 0.2596, p = 0.7575, respectively).
Conclusions and Significance
No effective treatments exist for skin damage in SSc patients. Nor is there a laboratory alternative to the modified Rodnan skin score as is the case for other organs within the body. Modulation of circulating L-selectin is a promising target for reducing skin damage in dSSc patients. Plasma levels of soluble L-selectin could serve as an outcome measure for dSSc patients in clinical trials.
PMCID: PMC3441480  PMID: 23028631
Immunological investigations  2008;37(5):631-644.
Pregnancy has both short-term effects and long-term consequences. For women who have an autoimmune disease and subsequently become pregnant, pregnancy can induce amelioration of the mother’s disease, such as in rheumatoid arthritis, while exacerbating or having no effect on other autoimmune diseases like systemic lupus erythematosus. That pregnancy also leaves a long-term legacy has recently become apparent by the discovery that bi-directional cell trafficking results in persistence of fetal cells in the mother and of maternal cells in her offspring for decades after birth. The long-term persistence of a small number of cells (or DNA) from a genetically disparate individual is referred to as microchimerism. While microchimerism is common in healthy individuals and is likely to have health benefits, microchimerism has been implicated in some autoimmune diseases such as systemic sclerosis. In this paper, we will first discuss short-term effects of pregnancy on women with autoimmune disease. Pregnancy-associated changes will be reviewed for selected autoimmune diseases including rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus and autoimmune thyroid disease. The pregnancy-induced amelioration of rheumatoid arthritis presents a window of opportunity for insights into both immunological mechanisms of fetal-maternal tolerance and pathogenic mechanisms in autoimmunity. A mechanistic hypothesis for the pregnancy-induced amelioration of rheumatoid arthritis will be described. We will then discuss the legacy of maternal-fetal cell transfer from the perspective of autoimmune diseases. Fetal and maternal microchimerism will be reviewed with a focus on systemic sclerosis (scleroderma), autoimmune thyroid disease, neonatal lupus and type I diabetes mellitus.
PMCID: PMC2709983  PMID: 18716941
autoimmune disease; pregnancy; microchimerism; systemic lupus erythematosus; rheumatoid arthritis
10.  Systems Level Analysis of Systemic Sclerosis Shows a Network of Immune and Profibrotic Pathways Connected with Genetic Polymorphisms 
PLoS Computational Biology  2015;11(1):e1004005.
Systemic sclerosis (SSc) is a rare systemic autoimmune disease characterized by skin and organ fibrosis. The pathogenesis of SSc and its progression are poorly understood. The SSc intrinsic gene expression subsets (inflammatory, fibroproliferative, normal-like, and limited) are observed in multiple clinical cohorts of patients with SSc. Analysis of longitudinal skin biopsies suggests that a patient's subset assignment is stable over 6–12 months. Genetically, SSc is multi-factorial with many genetic risk loci for SSc generally and for specific clinical manifestations. Here we identify the genes consistently associated with the intrinsic subsets across three independent cohorts, show the relationship between these genes using a gene-gene interaction network, and place the genetic risk loci in the context of the intrinsic subsets. To identify gene expression modules common to three independent datasets from three different clinical centers, we developed a consensus clustering procedure based on mutual information of partitions, an information theory concept, and performed a meta-analysis of these genome-wide gene expression datasets. We created a gene-gene interaction network of the conserved molecular features across the intrinsic subsets and analyzed their connections with SSc-associated genetic polymorphisms. The network is composed of distinct, but interconnected, components related to interferon activation, M2 macrophages, adaptive immunity, extracellular matrix remodeling, and cell proliferation. The network shows extensive connections between the inflammatory- and fibroproliferative-specific genes. The network also shows connections between these subset-specific genes and 30 SSc-associated polymorphic genes including STAT4, BLK, IRF7, NOTCH4, PLAUR, CSK, IRAK1, and several human leukocyte antigen (HLA) genes. Our analyses suggest that the gene expression changes underlying the SSc subsets may be long-lived, but mechanistically interconnected and related to a patients underlying genetic risk.
Author Summary
Systemic sclerosis (SSc) is a rare autoimmune disease characterized by skin thickening (fibrosis) and progressive organ failure. Previous studies of SSc skin biopsies have identified molecular subsets of SSc based upon gene expression termed the inflammatory, fibroproliferative, normal-like, and limited intrinsic subsets. These gene expression signatures are large and although the biological processes are conserved, the exact list of genes can vary across datasets due to random variation, as well as minor differences in the composition of the study cohorts (e.g. early vs. late disease). We developed a computational tool to identify the consensus genes underlying the subsets across heterogeneous data and characterized the biological role of the consensus genes in SSc in order to obtain a systems level perspective of the SSc subsets. Our analysis reveals a complex network of genes connecting two of the major SSc intrinsic subsets, inflammatory and fibroproliferative. Many genetic loci associated with SSc risk show connections with the consensus genes of the intrinsic subsets, indicating that differential expression of genes defining the subsets may be related to genetic risk for SSc, thus for the first time placing the genetic risk factors in the context of, and showing putative relationships with, the intrinsic gene expression subsets.
PMCID: PMC4288710  PMID: 25569146
11.  Demographic, clinical and antibody characteristics of patients with digital ulcers in systemic sclerosis: data from the DUO Registry 
Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases  2012;71(5):718-721.
The Digital Ulcers Outcome (DUO) Registry was designed to describe the clinical and antibody characteristics, disease course and outcomes of patients with digital ulcers associated with systemic sclerosis (SSc).
The DUO Registry is a European, prospective, multicentre, observational, registry of SSc patients with ongoing digital ulcer disease, irrespective of treatment regimen. Data collected included demographics, SSc duration, SSc subset, internal organ manifestations, autoantibodies, previous and ongoing interventions and complications related to digital ulcers.
Up to 19 November 2010 a total of 2439 patients had enrolled into the registry. Most were classified as either limited cutaneous SSc (lcSSc; 52.2%) or diffuse cutaneous SSc (dcSSc; 36.9%). Digital ulcers developed earlier in patients with dcSSc compared with lcSSc. Almost all patients (95.7%) tested positive for antinuclear antibodies, 45.2% for anti-scleroderma-70 and 43.6% for anticentromere antibodies (ACA). The first digital ulcer in the anti-scleroderma-70-positive patient cohort occurred approximately 5 years earlier than the ACA-positive patient group.
This study provides data from a large cohort of SSc patients with a history of digital ulcers. The early occurrence and high frequency of digital ulcer complications are especially seen in patients with dcSSc and/or anti-scleroderma-70 antibodies.
PMCID: PMC3329234  PMID: 22247218
12.  The Pronounced Th17 Profile in Systemic Sclerosis (SSc) Together with Intracellular Expression of TGFβ and IFNγ Distinguishes SSc Phenotypes 
PLoS ONE  2009;4(6):e5903.
Systemic sclerosis (SSc) is an autoimmune disease where controversy on Th1/Th2 balance dominates. We investigated whether the recently discovered Th17 pattern was present in SSc.
Methodology and Principal Findings
Patients were subdivided as having limited cutaneous SSc (lcSSc, n = 12) or diffuse cutaneous SSc (dcSSc, n = 24). A further arbitrary subdivision was made between early dcSSc (n = 11) and late dcSSc (n = 13) based upon the duration of disease. As a comparator group 14 healthy controls were studied. CD3+ cells were isolated using FACS and subsequently studied for the expression of CD4, CD8, CD25, CD45Ro, CD45Ra, IL-23, GITR, CD69 and intracellular expression of IL-17, TGFβ and IFNγ using flow cytometry. Levels of IL-17, IL-6, IL-1α and IL-23 were measured using Bioplex assays. SSc patients had more and more activated CD4+ cells. In addition, CD4, CD45Ro and CD45Ra cells from all SSc patients highly expressed the IL23R, which was associated with a higher IL-17 expression as well. In contrast, IFNγ and TGFβ were selectively up regulated in SSc subsets. In line with these observation, circulating levels of IL-17 inducing cytokines IL-6, IL-23 and IL-1α were increased in all or subsets of SSc patients.
Conclusion and Significance
The combination of IL-17, IFNγ and TGFβ levels in CD45Ro and CD45Ra cells from SSc patients is useful to distinguish between lSSc, ldSSc or edSSc. Blocking Th17 inducing cytokines such as IL-6 and IL-23 may provide a useful tool to intervene in the progression of SSc.
PMCID: PMC2691991  PMID: 19536281
13.  Work Disability in Scleroderma is Greater than in Rheumatoid Arthritis and is Predicted by High HAQ Scores 
To estimate the frequency of work disability (WD) in a cohort of patients with Systemic Sclerosis (SSc) vs an internal control group of patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) with a known high frequency of WD; and to investigate the association between WD and other factors including Health Assessment Questionnaire Disability Index (HAQ-DI) scores, HAQ pain, age, sex, disease duration and education level.
Cross-sectional data on WD status were obtained from a questionnaire sent to all SSc (n = 35 limited [lcSSc], 26 diffuse [dcSSc]) and a subset of RA patients (n=104) from a rheumatology practice. WD data, HAQ-DI scores, and demographic/clinical features (age, sex, high school education, disease duration and SSc disease subtype [dcSSc vs lcSSc]) were recorded.
The proportion with WD was 0.56 in SSc (95% CI: 0.43-0.68) vs 0.35 in RA (95% CI: 0.25-0.44), p= 0.009. HAQ-DI scores were significantly higher in work-disabled SSc and RA patients vs those who were employed (p=0.0001, and p <0.0001). Multivariate logistic regression analysis demonstrated that higher HAQ-DI scores (β=1.78, p <0.001), disease type (dcSSc, lcSSc, RA) (β=1.32 for dcSSc, p=0.032), and self-reported disease duration (β=0.04, p=0.042) were significantly associated with WD (R2=0.311). Adding a work-related factor (self-reported physically demanding work) improved the regression model (R2=0.346) and strengthened the HAQ-DI (β=1.86, p <0.001) and lcSSc (β=1.24, p=0.024) coefficients.
The frequency of WD in SSc was high and was greater than in RA. SSc (and dcSSc) had significantly more WD than RA. The HAQ-DI was strongly associated with WD in SSc
PMCID: PMC2588092  PMID: 19088871
Scleroderma; systemic sclerosis; work disability; health assessment questionnaire
Systemic sclerosis (SSc) is an immune-mediated and complex genetic disease. An association of single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in the STAT4 gene with SSc has been reported in European Caucasians, North Americans and Japanese. We undertook the current study to examine whether the STAT4 SNPs are also associated with susceptibility to SSc and SSc subsets in a Han Chinese population. A total of 453 Han Chinese patients with SSc and 534 healthy controls were examined in the study. The SNPs rs7574865, rs10168266 and rs3821236 of the STAT4 gene were examined with SNP TaqMan assays. The T-allele carriers of rs7574865 and rs10168266 were strongly associated with the presence of anti-topoisomerase I (ATA) and pulmonary fibrosis in SSc patients, as well as with diffuse cutaneous SSc (dcSSc). The presence of anti-centromere (ACA) and limited cutaneous SSc (lcSSc) did not show significant association with any of the examined SNPs. The results were consistent with previous reports in other ethnic populations in supporting the notion that polymorphisms of STAT4 may play an important role in susceptibility to SSc. It also revealed different genetic aspects of SSc subsets in a Han Chinese population.
PMCID: PMC4105920  PMID: 23755762
scleroderma systemic sclerosis; polymorphism; stat4; genetics; Chinese population
15.  Antigen specificity of antihistone antibodies in systemic sclerosis 
Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases  1998;57(8):470-475.
OBJECTIVES—The aim of the study was to determine the prevalence and clinical significance of antibodies to individual histone components in systemic sclerosis (SSc).
METHODS—Serum samples from patients with limited cutaneous SSc (lSSc; n=42) and diffuse cutaneous SSc (dSSc; n=28) were examined for IgG and/or IgM antibodies to individual histone components and complexes by enzyme linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA).
RESULTS—The level of IgG antibody to total histones was significantly higher in lSSc and dSSc than in normal controls. The level of IgM antibody to total histones was significantly higher in lSSc, but not in dSSc, than in normal controls. IgG antibody to total histones tended to be increased in dSSc when compared with that in lSSc. On the other hand, IgM antibody to total histones tended to be increased in lSSc when compared with that in dSSc. Although SSc showed various antihistone specificities, H2B, H2A-H2B, (H2A-H2B)-dsDNA were main antigens recognised by IgG antibodies in both lSSc and dSSc. Although IgM antibodies to H2B and H2A-H2B were also detected in both lSSc and dSSc, serum samples from lSSc patients exhibited highest IgM reactivity with H1.
CONCLUSION—SSc may be included among conditions in which heterogeneous antihistone antibodies are produced. IgM antibodies to the most accessible histone H1 may be related to mild clinical features (lSSc) and IgG antibodies to the inner core molecules of native histone such as H2B or complexes including H2B may be associated with severe clinical features (dSSc) in Ssc.

 Keywords: histone; antibody; systemic sclerosis; enzyme linked immunosorbent assay
PMCID: PMC1752726  PMID: 9797552
16.  Characterization of monocyte/macrophage subsets in the skin and peripheral blood derived from patients with systemic sclerosis 
Arthritis Research & Therapy  2010;12(4):R128.
Recent accumulating evidence indicates a crucial involvement of macrophage lineage in the pathogenesis of systemic sclerosis (SSc). To analyze the assembly of the monocyte/macrophage population, we evaluated the expression of CD163 and CD204 and various activated macrophage markers, in the inflammatory cells of the skin and in the peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) derived from patients with SSc.
Skin biopsy specimens from 6 healthy controls and 10 SSc patients (7 limited cutaneous SSc and 3 diffuse cutaneous SSc) were analyzed by immunohistochemistry using monoclonal antibody against CD68 (pan-macrophage marker), CD163 and CD204. Surface and/or intracellular protein expression of CD14 (marker for monocyte lineage), CD163 and CD204 was analysed by flow cytometry in PBMCs from 16 healthy controls and 41 SSc patients (26 limited cutaneous SSc and 15 diffuse cutaneous SSc). Statistical analysis was carried out using Mann-Whitney U test for comparison of means.
In the skin from SSc patients, the number of CD163+ cells or CD204+ cells between the collagen fibers was significantly larger than that in healthy controls. Flow cytometry showed that the population of CD14+ cells was significantly greater in PBMCs from SSc patients than that in healthy controls. Further analysis of CD14+ cells in SSc patients revealed higher expression of CD163 and the presence of two unique peaks in the CD204 histogram. Additionally, we found that the CD163+ cells belong to CD14brightCD204+ population.
This is the first report indicating CD163+ or CD204+ activated macrophages may be one of the potential fibrogenic regulators in the SSc skin. Furthermore, this study suggests a portion of PBMCs in SSc patients abnormally differentiates into CD14brightCD163+CD204+ subset. The subset specific to SSc may play an important role in the pathogenesis of this disease, as the source of CD163+ or CD204+ macrophages in the skin.
PMCID: PMC2945018  PMID: 20602758
17.  The Significance of Palpable Tendon Friction Rubs in Early Diffuse Cutaneous Systemic Sclerosis 
Arthritis care & research  2013;65(8):10.1002/acr.21964.
Palpable tendon friction rubs (TFRs) in systemic sclerosis (SSc) have been associated with diffuse cutaneous skin disease, increased disability and poor survival. Our objective was to quantify the prognostic implications of palpable TFRs on the development of disease complications and longer-term mortality in an incident cohort of early diffuse SSc patients.
We identified early diffuse SSc patients (disease duration < 2 years from the first SSc symptom) first evaluated at the Pittsburgh Scleroderma Center between 1980-2006 and found to have palpable TFRs. These were matched 1:1 with the next consecutive early diffuse SSc patient without TFR as a control. All had two or more clinic visits and five years of follow-up from the first visit.
287 early diffuse SSc patients with TFR were identified and matched to 287 controls. The mean disease duration was 0.82 years in TFR patients and 1.04 years in controls. Mean follow-up was 10.1 years in TFR patients, and 7.9 years in controls. Over the course of their illness, patients with TFR had a greater than two-fold risk of developing renal crisis, cardiac and gastrointestinal disease complications, even after adjustment for other known factors. Patients with TFR had poorer five and ten year survival rates.
Patients with early diffuse SSc having one or more TFRs are at increased risk of developing renal, cardiac and gastrointestinal involvement before and after their first Scleroderma Center visit, and have reduced survival. Patients presenting with TFRs should be carefully monitored for serious internal organ involvement.
PMCID: PMC3817608  PMID: 23371412
18.  Prevalence, correlates and clinical usefulness of antibodies to RNA polymerase III in systemic sclerosis: a cross-sectional analysis of data from an Australian cohort 
Arthritis Research & Therapy  2011;13(6):R211.
The prevalence of antibodies to RNA polymerase III (anti-RNAP) differs among systemic sclerosis (SSc) cohorts worldwide. Previously reported associations of anti-RNAP include diffuse cutaneous disease, tendon friction rubs and renal crisis, with recent reports suggesting a close temporal association between malignancy and SSc disease onset among patients with anti-RNAP.
Patients with SSc were tested for the presence of anti-RNAP at recruitment into the Australian Scleroderma Cohort Study. We used univariate and multivariable methods to identify and quantify clinical and laboratory correlates of anti-RNAP in SSc. Diagnostic testing procedures were used to determine the usefulness of these antibodies in estimating the likelihood of clinically important outcomes.
There were 451 patients with mean ± standard deviation age and disease duration at recruitment of 58.1 ± 12.4 and 11.6 ± 10.0 years, respectively; 151 (33.5%) patients were recruited within 5 years of diagnosis of SSc. Overall, 69 (15.3%) patients had anti-RNAP. Univariate associations of anti-RNAP were diffuse disease (75.4% vs. 20.9%, P < 0.0001), joint contractures (73.9% vs. 30.1%, P < 0.0001), greater highest-recorded modified Rodnan skin score (20.6 ± 12.4 vs. 10.1 ± 7.9, P < 0.0001), synovitis (31.9% vs. 19.9%, P = 0.03), myositis (2.9% vs. 0.5%, P = 0.05), systemic hypertension (59.4% vs. 39.7%, P = 0.002), renal crisis (24.6% vs. 1.8%, P < 0.0001) and malignancy diagnosed within 5 years of onset of SSc skin disease (13.3% vs. 3.9%, P = 0.01). In multiple regression analysis, after adjustment for other covariates, anti-RNAP were independently associated with renal crisis (odds ratio (OR) 3.8, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.2 to 11.5, P = 0.02; positive predictive value (PPV) 24.6%, negative predictive value (NPV) 98.2%), diffuse disease (OR 6.4, 95% CI 2.9 to 13.8, P < 0.0001; PPV 75.4%, NPV 20.9%), joint contractures (OR 2.5, 95% CI 1.2 to 5.3, P = 0.02; PPV 73.9%, NPV 69.9%) and malignancy diagnosed within 5 years of onset of SSc skin disease (OR 4.2, 95% CI 1.3 to 13.4, P = 0.01; PPV 13.3%, NPV 96.1%).
Anti-RNAP status is a clinically useful prognostic marker in SSc and enables clinicians to identify patients at high risk of developing renal crisis, synovitis, myositis and joint contractures. Patients with anti-RNAP also have an increased risk of malignancy within a 5-year timeframe before or after onset of SSc skin changes.
PMCID: PMC3334664  PMID: 22189167
19.  Radiological hand involvement in systemic sclerosis 
Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases  2006;65(8):1088-1092.
The osteoarticular and soft tissue structures of the hand may be involved in systemic sclerosis (SSc), causing functional disability.
To assess radiological hand features in a cross sectional study of SSc patients and in controls.
Hand radiology was done systematically in patients with SSc seen over a two year period and in unselected controls with rheumatoid arthritis or digital trauma. Two independent investigators blind to the diagnosis carried out the radiological assessment.
120 consecutive SSc patients (median (range) age, 56.5 (20 to 90) years; disease duration, 6 (0 to 42) years) and 42 controls (22 with rheumatoid arthritis and 20 with digital trauma) were studied. Radiological abnormalities in SSc patients included erosion (21%), joint space narrowing (28%), arthritis (defined by concomitant erosion and joint space narrowing) (18%), radiological demineralisation (23%), acro‐osteolysis (22%), flexion contracture (27%), and calcinosis (23%). In univariate and multivariate analysis, the resorption of distal phalanges was significantly associated with digital ulcers, extra‐articular calcification, and pulmonary arterial hypertension; flexion contracture was associated with the diffuse cutaneous form and high HAQ (Health Assessment Questionnaire) disability score. Calcinosis was most often seen in patients with digital ulcers, but was similarly observed in patients with the diffuse or limited cutaneous subtypes.
Flexion contracture was associated with disability and occurred in patients with the diffuse cutaneous subtype of SSc, consistent with the tendency towards fibrosis and functional impairment of this subtype. Calcinosis and acro‐osteolysis were both associated with vascular complications, highlighting a potential role of vascular injury in such lesions.
PMCID: PMC1798258  PMID: 16414976
systemic sclerosis; hand; acro‐osteolysis; calcinosis
20.  Association of the HLA-DRB1 with Scleroderma in Chinese Population 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(9):e106939.
Multiple alleles of the Human leukocyte antigen (HLA) DRB1 have been strongly associated with systemic sclerosis (SSc) and its clinical or serological subsets. However, the associations vary in different ethnic populations. To define SSc-risk and/or -protective alleles of HLA-DRB1 in Chinese population, we studied a Han Chinese cohort containing 585 patients with SSc and 458 gender-matched, unrelated controls. The HLA-DRB1 genotyping was performed with sequence-based typing method. Exact p-values were obtained (Fisher’s test) from 2×2 tables of allele frequency and disease status. The major SSc-risk allele subtypes of HLA-DRB1 are the DRB1*15∶02 and *16∶02 in this Chinese cohort. Particularly, DRB1*15∶02 was most significantly associated with anti-centromere autoantibodies (ACA) positive, and DRB1*16∶02 with anti-topoisomerase I autoantibodies (ATA) positive patients. On the other hand, DRB1*01∶01 and *04∶06 were strong SSc-protective alleles in Chinese, especially in patients who were ACA positive and had diffuse cutaneous SSc (dcSSc), respectively. In addition, DRB1*11 and *07∶01 also showed significant association with SSc as a risk for and protection from SSc, respectively, and which is consistent with the studies of Spanish, US Caucasian and Hispanic populations. DRB1*15 was associated with ATA positive Chinese SSc that is consistent with Black South African and Korean SSc. These findings of HLA-DRB1 alleles in association with Chinese SSc provide the growing knowledge of genetics of SSc, and indicate that the genetic heterogeneity among ethnicities may significantly impact the complex trait of SSc.
PMCID: PMC4153724  PMID: 25184637
21.  Increased Frequency and Compromised Function of T Regulatory Cells in Systemic Sclerosis (SSc) Is Related to a Diminished CD69 and TGFβ Expression 
PLoS ONE  2009;4(6):e5981.
Regulatory T cells (Tregs) are essential in the control of tolerance. Evidence implicates Tregs in human autoimmune conditions. Here we investigated their role in systemic sclerosis (SSc).
Methods/Principal Findings
Patients were subdivided as having limited cutaneous SSc (lcSSc, n = 20) or diffuse cutaneous SSc (dcSSc, n = 48). Further subdivision was made between early dcSSc (n = 24) and late dcSSc (n = 24) based upon the duration of disease. 26 controls were studied for comparison. CD3+ cells were isolated using FACS and subsequently studied for the expression of CD4, CD8, CD25, FoxP3, CD127, CD62L, GITR, CD69 using flow cytometry. T cell suppression assays were performed using sorted CD4CD25highCD127- and CD4CD25lowCD127high and CD3+ cells. Suppressive function was correlated with CD69 surface expression and TGFβ secretion/expression. The frequency of CD4+CD25+ and CD25highFoxP3highCD127neg T cells was highly increased in all SSc subgroups. Although the expression of CD25 and GITR was comparable between groups, expression of CD62L and CD69 was dramatically lower in SSc patients, which correlated with a diminished suppressive function. Co-incubation of Tregs from healthy donors with plasma from SSc patients fully abrogated suppressive activity. Activation of Tregs from healthy donors or SSc patients with PHA significantly up regulated CD69 expression that could be inhibited by SSc plasma.
These results indicate that soluble factors in SSc plasma inhibit Treg function specifically that is associated with altered Treg CD69 and TGFβ expression. These data suggest that a defective Treg function may underlie the immune dysfunction in systemic sclerosis.
PMCID: PMC2695559  PMID: 19543397
22.  Allogeneic Marrow Transplantation in Patients With Severe Systemic Sclerosis 
Arthritis and rheumatism  2006;54(6):1982-1986.
To evaluate the safety and efficacy of allogeneic hematopoietic cell transplantation (HCT) after myeloablative conditioning in patients with severe systemic sclerosis (SSc).
Eligibility criteria for the study included SSc patients with features indicative of a poor prognosis. The myeloablative conditioning regimen included busulfan, cyclophosphamide, and antithymocyte globulin. Prophylaxis for graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) consisted of cyclosporine and methotrexate. Bone marrow was transplanted from HLA-identical siblings.
Two patients with diffuse cutaneous SSc and lung involvement who were refractory to conventional immunosuppressive treatment were enrolled in the study. In patient 1, there were no complications related to the conditioning regimen, and GVHD did not develop after transplantation. At 5 years after HCT, there was nearly complete resolution of the scleroderma and marked improvement in physical functioning. Internal organ function improved (lung) or remained stable. On examination of serial skin biopsy samples, there was resolution of the dermal fibrosis. Patient 2 experienced skin toxicity from the conditioning regimen and hypertensive crisis that was likely related to high-dose corticosteroids given for treatment of GVHD. Although this patient experienced an improvement in scleroderma and overall functioning, a fatal opportunistic infection developed 17 months after HCT.
Allogeneic HCT may result in sustained remission of SSc. GVHD and opportunistic infections are the major risks associated with allogeneic HCT for SSc, as for allogeneic HCT in general.
PMCID: PMC2956579  PMID: 16732546
23.  Increased incidence of pregnancy complications in women who later develop scleroderma: a case control study 
Arthritis Research & Therapy  2011;13(6):R183.
Studies have shown that fetal progenitor cells persist in maternal blood or bone marrow for more than 30 years after delivery. Increased trafficking of fetal cells occurs during pregnancy complications, such as hypertension, preeclampsia, miscarriage and intra-uterine growth restriction (IUGR). Women with these pregnancy complications are significantly more often HLA-class II compatible with their spouses. Women who later develop scleroderma also give birth to an HLA-class II child more often. From these prior studies we hypothesized that preeclampsia and other pregnancy complications could be associated with increased levels of fetal cell trafficking, and later be involved in the development of scleroderma.
This study was a retrospective multi-centre matched case-control study. One-hundred-and-three women with systemic sclerosis (SSc) and 103 women with no history of SSc or other autoimmune disease were given a questionnaire regarding complications during pregnancy, such as hypertension, intra-uterine growth restriction (IUGR) and miscarriage. Conditional logistic regression analysis was used to assess associations.
We found a statistically significantly increased incidence of having had a pregnancy history of hypertension or a fetus with IUGR in women who subsequently developed SSc compared to healthy controls. We found an odds ratio of 2.6 (95% confidence interval (CI): 1.1 to 4.6) for hypertensive complications during pregnancy and an odds ratio of 3.9 (95% CI: 1.2 to 12.3) for intra-uterine growth restriction for women with SSc compared to healthy controls.
This is the first study to show an association between hypertensive complications during pregnancy or IUGR and the development of SSc at a later age. We speculate that the pregnancy abnormalities may have resulted in increased fetomaternal trafficking, which may have played a role in the increased incidence of SSc. Further studies are indicated to examine this putative relationship.
PMCID: PMC3334631  PMID: 22053948
Pregnancy; Chimerism; Systemic sclerosis; Hypertension; Pre-eclampsia; Intra-uterine growth restriction
24.  Interferon and Alternative Activation of Monocyte/Macrophages in Systemic Sclerosis–Associated Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension 
Arthritis and rheumatism  2011;63(6):1718-1728.
To explore the relationship between biomarkers of pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH), interferon (IFN)–regulated gene expression, and the alternative activation pathway in systemic sclerosis (SSc).
Peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) were purified from healthy controls, patients with idiopathic PAH, and SSc patients (classified as having diffuse cutaneous SSc, limited cutaneous SSc [lcSSc] without PAH, and lcSSc with PAH). IFN-regulated and “PAH biomarker” genes were compared after supervised hierarchical clustering. Messenger RNA levels of selected IFN-regulated genes (Siglec1 and MX1), biomarker genes (IL13RA1, CCR1, and JAK2), and the alternative activation marker gene (MRC1) were analyzed on PBMCs and on CD14− and CD14+ cell populations. Interleukin-13 (IL-13) and IL-4 concentrations were measured in plasma by immunoassay. CD14, MRC1, and IL13RA1 surface expression was analyzed by flow cytometry.
Increased PBMC expression of both IFN-regulated and biomarker genes distinguished SSc patients from healthy controls. Expression of genes in the biomarker cluster, but not in the IFN-regulated cluster, distinguished lcSSc with PAH from lcSSc without PAH. The genes CCR1 (P < 0.001) and JAK2 (P < 0.001) were expressed more highly in lcSSc patients with PAH compared with controls and mainly by CD14+ cells. MRC1 expression was increased exclusively in lcSSc patients with PAH (P < 0.001) and correlated strongly with pulmonary artery pressure (r = 0.52, P = 0.03) and higher mortality (P = 0.02). MRC1 expression was higher in CD14+ cells and was greatly increased by stimulation with IL-13. IL-13 concentrations in plasma were most highly increased in lcSSc patients with PAH (P < 0.001).
IFN-regulated and biomarker genes represent distinct, although related, clusters in lcSSc patients with PAH. MRC1, a marker for the effect of IL-13 on alternative monocyte/macrophage activation, is associated with this severe complication and is related to mortality.
PMCID: PMC4030759  PMID: 21425123
25.  Cutaneous Chronic Graft-Versus-Host Disease Does Not Have the Abnormal Endothelial Phenotype or Vascular Rarefaction Characteristic of Systemic Sclerosis 
PLoS ONE  2009;4(7):e6203.
The clinical and histologic appearance of fibrosis in cutaneous lesions in chronic graft-versus -host disease (c-GVHD) resembles the appearance of fibrosis in scleroderma (SSc). Recent studies identified distinctive structural changes in the superficial dermal microvasculature and matrix of SSc skin. We compared the dermal microvasculature in human c-GVHD to SSc to determine if c-GVHD is a suitable model for SSc.
Methodology/Principal Findings
We analyzed skin biopsies of normal controls (n = 24), patients with SSc (n = 30) and c-GVHD with dermal fibrosis (n = 133)). Immunostaining was employed to identify vessels, vascular smooth muscle, dermal matrix, and cell proliferation. C-GVHD and SSc had similar dermal matrix composition and vascular smooth muscle pathology, including intimal hyperplasia. SSc, however, differed significantly from c-GVHD in three ways. First, there were significantly fewer (p = 0.00001) average vessels in SSc biopsies (9.8) when compared with c-GVHD (16.5). Second, in SSc, endothelial markers were decreased significantly (19/19 and 12/14 for VE cadherin and vWF (p = <0.0001 and <0.05), respectively). In contrast, 0/13 c-GVHD biopsies showed loss of staining with canonical endothelial markers. Third, c-GVHD contained areas of microvascular endothelial proliferation not present in the SSc biopsies.
The sclerosis associated with c-GVHD appears to resemble wound healing. Focal capillary proliferation occurs in early c-GVHD. In contrast, loss of canonical endothelial markers and dermal capillaries is seen in SSc, but not in c-GVHD. The loss of VE cadherin in SSc, in particular, may be related to microvascular rarefaction because VE cadherin is necessary for angiogenesis. C-GVHD is a suitable model for studying dermal fibrosis but may not be applicable for studying the microvascular alterations characteristic of SSc.
PMCID: PMC2705674  PMID: 19587802

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