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1.  Targeting STAT4 in systemic sclerosis: a promising new direction 
STAT4 has been identified as a genetic risk factor for the development of autoimmune diseases including systemic sclerosis. STAT4 regulates Th1 cell development and cell-mediated immunity, but it is not known how it may regulate the development of dermal fibrosis. Using the bleomycin-induced dermal fibrosis model, it has now been demonstrated that STAT4-deficient mice have reduced dermal fibrosis in part via STAT4-dependent alterations in T-cell proliferation and cytokine production. These data stress the importance of STAT4 in autoimmune diseases such as systemic sclerosis and provide an important direction for future research to improve our understanding of systemic sclerosis pathogenesis.
doi:10.1586/eci.11.31
PMCID: PMC3269303  PMID: 21790287
dermal fibrosis; STAT4; systemic sclerosis
2.  Association of the C8orf13-BLK Region with Systemic Sclerosis in North-American and European Populations 
Journal of autoimmunity  2009;34(2):155.
Objective
Genetic studies in the systemic sclerosis (SSc), an autoimmune disease that clinically manifests with dermal and internal organ fibrosis and small vessel vasculopathy, have identified multiple susceptibility genes including HLA-class II, PTPN22, IRF5, and STAT4 which have also been associated with other autoimmune diseases, such as systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). These data suggest that there are common autoimmune disease susceptibility genes. The current report sought to determine if polymorphisms in the C8orf13-BLK region (chromosome 8p23.1-B lymphoid tyrosine kinase), which is associated with SLE, are associated also with SSc.
Methods
Two variants in the C8orf13-BLK region (rs13277113 & rs2736340) were tested for association with 1050 SSc cases and 694 controls of North Americans of European descent and replicated in a second series 589 SSc cases and 722 controls from Spain.
Results
The “T” allele at rs2736340 variant was associated with SSc in both the U.S. and Spanish case-control series (P=6.8×10−5, OR 1.27, 95%CI 1.1–1.4). The “A” allele at rs13277113 variant was associated with SSc in the U.S. series only (P=3.6×10−4, OR 1.32, 95%CI 1.1–1.6) and was significant in the combined analyses of the two series (P=2.0×10−3; OR 1.20, 95%CI 1.1–1.3). Both variants demonstrated an association with the anti-centromere antibody (P=2.2×10−6 and P=5.5×10−4, respectively) and limited SSc (P=3.3×10−5 and P=2.9×10−3, respectively) in the combined analysis. Peripheral blood gene expression profiles suggest that B-cell receptor and NFκB signaling are dysregulated based on the risk haplotype of these variants.
Conclusion
We identify and replicate the association of the C8orf13-BLK region as a novel susceptibility factor for SSc, placing it in the category of common autoimmune disease susceptibility genes.
doi:10.1016/j.jaut.2009.08.014
PMCID: PMC2821978  PMID: 19796918
Scleroderma; Systemic Sclerosis/SSc; Polymorphism/SNP; BLK; C8orf13; Anti- Topoisomerase-I; Anti-Centromere; Genetics; Autoantibody; rs13277113; rs2736340
3.  Association of TNFSF4 (OX40L) polymorphisms with susceptibility to systemic sclerosis 
Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases  2010;69(3):550-555.
Objective
It is increasingly being appreciated that multiple autoimmune diseases share common susceptibility genes. The tumour necrosis factor ligand superfamily member 4 gene (TNFSF4, OX40L), which encodes for the T cell costimulatory molecule OX40 ligand, has been identified as a susceptibility gene for the development of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). Accordingly, the aim of the current study was to investigate the possible association of the TNFSF4 gene region with systemic sclerosis (SSc), an autoimmune disease that leads to the development of cutaneous and visceral fibrosis.
Methods
A total of 9 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in the TNFSF4 gene region, previously associated with susceptibility to SLE, were tested for association with SSc in a collection of 1059 patients with SSc and 698 controls.
Results
Case-control comparisons revealed a significant association between susceptibility to SSc and the minor alleles at SNPs rs1234314 (OR 1.20, 95% CI 1.04 to 1.4, pFDR=0.019), rs2205960 (OR 1.24, 95% CI 1.10 to 1.50, pFDR=0.019) and rs844648 (OR 1.16, 95% CI 1.01 to 1.30, pFDR=0.032). The minor allele at rs844644 was protective (OR 0.84, 95% CI 0.70 to 0.97, pFDR=0.038). Analysis of subsets of patients with SSc demonstrated significant associations of the TNFSF4 SNPs with limited and diffuse SSc as well as specific SNPs that were associated with SSc-associated autoantibodies. Finally, the analyses suggest a potential interaction between two TNFSF4 SNPs, rs2205960 and rs844648, with regards to SSc susceptibility.
Conclusions
Polymorphisms in the TNFSF4 gene region are associated with susceptibility to SSc and its clinical and autoantibody subsets. TNFSF4 may be another gene that confers risk to multiple autoimmune diseases.
doi:10.1136/ard.2009.116434
PMCID: PMC2927683  PMID: 19778912
4.  Identification of Cadherin 11 as a Mediator of Dermal Fibrosis and Possible Role in Systemic Sclerosis 
Objective
Systemic sclerosis (SSc) is a chronic autoimmune disease clinically manifesting as progressive fibrosis of the skin and internal organs. Recent microarray studies demonstrated that cadherin 11 (Cad-11) expression is increased in the affected skin of patients with SSc. The purpose of this study was to examine our hypothesis that Cad-11 is a mediator of dermal fibrosis.
Methods
Biopsy samples of skin from SSc patients and healthy control subjects were used for real-time quantitative polymerase chain reaction analysis to assess Cad-11 expression and for immunohistochemistry to determine the expression pattern of Cad-11. To determine whether Cad-11 is a mediator of dermal fibrosis, Cad-11–deficient mice and anti–Cad-11 monoclonal antibodies (mAb) were used in the bleomycin-induced dermal fibrosis model. In vitro studies with dermal fibroblasts and bone marrow–derived macrophages were used to determine the mechanisms by which Cad-11 contributes to the development of tissue fibrosis.
Results
Levels of messenger RNA for Cad-11 were increased in skin biopsy samples from patients with SSc and correlated with the modified Rodnan skin thickness scores. Cad-11 expression was localized to dermal fibroblasts and macrophages in SSc skin. Cad-11–knockout mice injected with bleomycin had markedly attenuated dermal fibrosis, as quantified by measurements of skin thickness, collagen levels, myofibroblast accumulation, and profibrotic gene expression, in lesional skin as compared to the skin of wild-type mice. In addition, anti–Cad-11 mAb decreased fibrosis at various time points in the bleomycin-induced dermal fibrosis model. In vitro studies demonstrated that Cad-11 regulated the production of transforming growth factor β (TGFβ) by macrophages and the migration of fibroblasts.
Conclusion
These data demonstrate that Cad-11 is a mediator of dermal fibrosis and TGFβ production and suggest that Cad-11 may be a therapeutic target in SSc.
doi:10.1002/art.38275
PMCID: PMC4154539  PMID: 24757152
5.  Integrins and cadherins as therapeutic targets in fibrosis 
Fibrosis is the excessive deposition of extracellular matrix proteins into tissues leading to scar formation, disruption of normal tissue architecture and organ failure. Despite the large clinical impact of fibrosis, treatment options are limited. Adhesion molecules, in particular αvβ6 and α3β1 integrins and cadherin-11, have been demonstrated to be important mediators of tissue fibrosis. These data are reviewed here and provide the foundation for these molecules to be potential therapeutic targets for patients with fibrotic diseases.
doi:10.3389/fphar.2014.00131
PMCID: PMC4042084  PMID: 24917820
integrins; cadherins; fibrosis; macrophage; fibroblasts; epithelial cells
6.  Osteopontin in Systemic Sclerosis and its Role in Dermal Fibrosis 
Osteopontin (OPN) is a matricellular protein with proinflammatory and profibrotic properties. Previous reports demonstrate a role for OPN in wound healing and pulmonary fibrosis. Herein, we determined if OPN levels are increased in a large cohort of systemic sclerosis (SSc) patients and if OPN contributes dermal fibrosis. Plasma OPN levels were increased in SSc patients, including patients with limited and diffuse disease, compared to healthy controls. Immunohistology demonstrated OPN on fibroblast-like and inflammatory cells in SSc skin and lesional skin from mice in the bleomycin-induced dermal fibrosis model. OPN deficient (OPN−/−) mice developed less dermal fibrosis compared to wild-type mice in the bleomycin-induced dermal fibrosis model. Additional in vivo studies demonstrated that lesional skin from OPN−/− mice had fewer Mac-3+ cells, fewer myofibroblasts, decreased TGF-beta (TGFβ) and genes in the TGFβ pathway and decreased numbers of cells expressing phosphorylated SMAD2 (pSMAD) and ERK. In vitro, OPN−/− dermal fibroblasts had decreased migratory capacity but similar phosphorylation of SMAD2 by TGFβ. Finally, TGFβ production by OPN deficient macrophages was reduced compared to wild type. These data demonstrate an important role for OPN in the development of dermal fibrosis and suggest that OPN may be a novel therapeutic target in SSc.
doi:10.1038/jid.2012.32
PMCID: PMC3365548  PMID: 22402440
7.  Anti-Fibrillarin Antibody in African American Patients with Systemic Sclerosis: Immunogenetics, Clinical Features, and Survival Analysis 
The Journal of rheumatology  2011;38(8):1622-1630.
Background
Anti-U3-RNP or anti-fibrillarin antibodies (AFA) are detected more frequently among African American (AA) patients with systemic sclerosis (SSc) compared to other ethnic groups and are associated with distinct clinical features. The current study examines the immunogenetic, clinical, and survival correlates of AFA in a large group of AA patients with SSc.
Methods
Overall, 278 AA SSc patients and 328 unaffected AA controls were enrolled from three North American cohorts. Clinical features, autoantibody profile, and HLA-class-II genotyping were captured. To compare the clinical manifestations, relevant clinical features were adjusted for disease duration. The Cox proportional hazards regression was used to determine the effect of AFA on survival.
Results
Fifty (18.5%) AA patients had AFA. After Bonferroni correction, HLA-DRB1*08:04 was associated with AFA, compared to unaffected AA controls (OR=11.5, p<0.0001) and AFA negative SSc patients (OR=5.2, p=0.0002). AFA positive AA patients had younger age of disease onset, higher frequency of digital ulcers, diarrhea, pericarditis, higher Medsger Perivascular and lower Lung Severity Indices (p=0.004, p=0.014, p=0.019, p=0.092, p=0.006, and p=0.016, respectively). After adjustment for age at enrollment, AFA positive patients did not have different survival compared with patients without AFA (p=0.493).
Conclusion
These findings demonstrate strong association between AFA and HLA-DRB1*08:04 allele in AA patients with SSc. Moreover, AA SSc patients with AFA had younger age of onset, higher frequency of digital ulcers, pericarditis, and severe lower gastrointestinal involvement, but less severe lung involvement compared to AA patients without AFA. However, presence of AFA did not change survival.
doi:10.3899/jrheum.110071
PMCID: PMC3149738  PMID: 21572159
Scleroderma; GENISOS; anti-U3-RNP; digital ulcer; HLA DRB1; and Scleroderma Family Registry
8.  Toll-like receptor 3 upregulation by type I interferon in healthy and scleroderma dermal fibroblasts 
Introduction
Increased levels of genes in the type I interferon (IFN) pathway have been observed in patients with systemic sclerosis (SSc), or scleroderma. How type I IFN regulates the dermal fibroblast and its participation in the development of dermal fibrosis is not known. We hypothesized that one mechanism by which type I IFN may contribute to dermal fibrosis is through upregulation of specific Toll-like receptors (TLRs) on dermal fibroblasts. Therefore, we investigated the regulation of TLR expression on dermal fibroblasts by IFN.
Methods
The expression of TLRs was assessed in cultured dermal fibroblasts from control and SSc patients stimulated with IFNα2. The ability of IFNα2 to regulate TLR-induced interleukin (IL)-6 and CC chemokine ligand 2 production was also assessed. Immunohistochemical analyses were performed to determine whether TLR3 was expressed in skin biopsies in the bleomycin-induced skin fibrosis model and in patients with SSc.
Results
IFNα2 increased TLR3 expression on human dermal fibroblasts, which resulted in enhanced TLR3-induced IL-6 production. SSc fibroblasts have an augmented TLR3 response to IFNα2 relative to control fibroblasts. Pretreatment of fibroblasts with transforming growth factor (TGF)-β increased TLR3 induction by IFNα2, but coincubation of TGF-β did not alter TLR3 induction by IFN. Furthermore, IFNα2 inhibits but does not completely block the induction of connective tissue growth factor and collagen expression by TGF-βin fibroblasts. TLR3 expression was observed in dermal fibroblasts and inflammatory cells from skin biopsies from patients with SSc as well as in the bleomycin-induced skin fibrosis model.
Conclusions
Type I IFNs can increase the inflammatory potential of dermal fibroblasts through the upregulation of TLR3.
doi:10.1186/ar3221
PMCID: PMC3241348  PMID: 21223583
9.  Association of Interleukin 23 Receptor Polymorphisms with Anti-Topoisomerase-I Positivity and Pulmonary Hypertension in Systemic Sclerosis 
The Journal of rheumatology  2009;36(12):2715-2723.
Objective
IL23R has been identified as a susceptibility gene for development of multiple autoimmune diseases. We investigated the possible association of IL23R with systemic sclerosis (SSc), an autoimmune disease that leads to the development of cutaneous and visceral fibrosis.
Methods
We tested 9 single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNP) in IL23R for association with SSc in a cohort of 1402 SSc cases and 1038 controls. IL23R SNP tested were previously identified as SNP showing associations with inflammatory bowel disease.
Results
Case-control comparisons revealed no statistically significant differences between patients and healthy controls with any of the IL23R polymorphisms. Analyses of subsets of SSc patients showed that rs11209026 (Arg381Gln variant) was associated with anti-topoisomerase I antibody (ATA)-positive SSc (p = 0.001)) and rs11465804 SNP was associated with diffuse and ATA-positive SSc (p = 0.0001, p = 0.0026, respectively). These associations remained significant after accounting for multiple comparisons using the false discovery rate method. Wild-type genotype at both rs11209026 and rs11465804 showed significant protection against the presence of pulmonary hypertension (PHT). (p = 3×10−5, p = 1×10−5, respectively).
Conclusion
Polymorphisms in IL23R are associated with susceptibility to ATA-positive SSc and protective against development of PHT in patients with SSc.
doi:10.3899/jrheum.090421
PMCID: PMC2895677  PMID: 19918037
SYSTEMIC SCLEROSIS; SCLERODERMA; IL23R; POLYMORPHISM; AUTOANTIBODIES; PULMONARY HYPERTENSION
10.  Plasma cytokine profiles in systemic sclerosis: associations with autoantibody subsets and clinical manifestations 
Arthritis Research & Therapy  2009;11(5):R147.
Introduction
Systemic sclerosis (SSc) (scleroderma) is a complex autoimmune disease that clinically manifests as progressive fibrosis of the skin and internal organs. Anti-centromere antibodies (ACAs), anti-topoisomerase antibodies (ATAs), and anti-RNA polymerase III antibodies (ARAs) are three mutually exclusive SSc-associated autoantibodies that correlate with distinct clinical subsets characterized by extent of cutaneous involvement and pattern of organ involvement. The current report sought to determine whether plasma cytokine profiles differ in SSc patients grouped according to these SSc-associated autoantibody subsets.
Methods
Plasma from 444 SSc patients and 216 healthy controls was obtained from the Scleroderma Family Registry and University of Texas Rheumatology Division. Patients were classified according to the presence of ACAs, ATAs, ARAs, or none of the above (antibody-negative). Levels of 13 cytokines were determined using multiplex assays.
Results
Compared with females, healthy control males had higher plasma levels of IL-2 (P = 0.008), IL-5 (P = 0.01) and IL-8 (P = 0.01). In addition, in controls, IL-6 (P = 0.02) and IL-17 (P = 0.01) levels increased with advancing age. After adjusting for age and gender, SSc patients had higher circulating levels of TNFα (P < 0.0001), IL-6 (P < 0.0001), and IFNγ (P = 0.05) and lower IL-17 (P = 0.0005) and IL-23 (P = 0.014). Additional analyses demonstrated that disease duration also influenced these cytokine profiles. IL-6 was elevated in ATA-positive and ARA-positive patients, but not in ACA-positive patients. IL-8 was uniquely increased in the ATA-positive subset while both ATA-positive and ACA-positive subsets had elevated IFNγ and IL-10. IL-5 was only significantly increased in the ACA-positive subset. Lastly, patients with interstitial lung disease had elevated IL-6 and patients with pulmonary hypertension had elevated IL-6 and IL-13.
Conclusions
Plasma cytokine profiles differ in SSc patients based on the presence of SSc-associated autoantibodies. Plasma cytokine profiles in SSc patients may also be affected by disease duration and the pattern of internal organ involvement.
doi:10.1186/ar2821
PMCID: PMC2787259  PMID: 19799786
11.  Predictors of Discontinuation of Tumor Necrosis Factor Inhibitors in Patients with Rheumatoid Arthritis 
The Journal of rheumatology  2008;35(9):1737-1744.
Objective
Tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF) inhibitors have transformed management of rheumatoid arthritis (RA); however, many patients discontinue TNF inhibitors. Our goal was to determine the discontinuation rate of TNF inhibitors and identify predictors associated with discontinuation.
Methods
Enrollees in the Brigham RA Sequential Study (BRASS) formed the eligible cohort. Patients reporting use of a TNF inhibitor with at least 6 months of followup were followed until reporting TNF inhibitor discontinuation or their last study visit if they continued therapy. Potential predictor variables, including demographic and clinical data assessed at baseline and 6 months prior to study endpoint, were identified using a Cox proportional regression.
Results
Among 961 patients in BRASS, 503 were using a TNF inhibitor with at least 6 months of followup in BRASS (mean length of followup 39 mo, SD 13). Two hundred ten patients (42%) reported discontinuation of TNF inhibitor. Higher physician global scores (hazard ratio 1.27, 95% CI 1.18–1.38) and RA Disease Activity Index scores (HR 1.13, 95% CI 1.05–1.22) 6 months prior to stopping the TNF inhibitor and higher number of TNF inhibitors used previously (HR 1.30, 95% CI 1.03–1.66) were associated with discontinuation of TNF inhibitor. Prior use of synthetic disease modifying antirheumatic drugs (HR 0.50, 95% CI 0.34–0.72) and more years of cumulative methotrexate use (HR 0.24, 95% CI 0.12–0.47) were inversely associated with discontinuation of TNF inhibitor.
Conclusion
These data demonstrate that a significant number of patients with RA discontinue TNF inhibitors. Several easily characterized clinical variables have a modest predictive association with reduced probability of TNF inhibitor discontinuation.
PMCID: PMC2756035  PMID: 18634159
RHEUMATOID ARTHRITIS; PREDICTOR; TUMOR NECROSIS FACTOR INHIBITOR; DISCONTINUATION
12.  Blockade of interleukin-6 trans signaling attenuates pulmonary fibrosis 
Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF) is a lethal lung disease with progressive fibrosis and death within 2–3 years of diagnosis. IPF incidence and prevalence rates are increasing annually with few effective treatments available. Inhibition of interleukin 6 (IL-6) results in the attenuation of pulmonary fibrosis in mice. It is unclear whether this is due to blockade of classical signaling, mediated by membrane-bound IL-6 receptor alpha (mIL-6Rα), or trans signaling, mediated by soluble IL-6Rα (sIL-6Rα). Our study assessed the role of sL-6Rα in IPF. We demonstrated elevations of sIL-6Rα in IPF patients and in mice during the onset and progression of fibrosis. We demonstrated that protease-mediated cleavage from lung macrophages was important in production of sL-6Rα. In vivo neutralization of sIL-6Rα attenuated pulmonary fibrosis in mice as seen by reductions in myofibroblasts, fibronectin and collagen in the lung. In vitro activation of IL-6 trans signaling enhanced fibroblast proliferation and extracellular matrix protein production, effects relevant in the progression of pulmonary fibrosis. Together these findings demonstrate that the production of sL-6Rα from macrophages in the diseased lung contributes to IL-6 trans signaling that in turn influences events crucial in pulmonary fibrosis.
doi:10.4049/jimmunol.1302470
PMCID: PMC4169999  PMID: 25172494
13.  Detection and isolation of auto-reactive human antibodies from primary B cells 
Methods (San Diego, Calif.)  2013;64(2):10.1016/j.ymeth.2013.06.018.
The isolation of human monoclonal antibodies (hmAb) has emerged as a versatile platform in a wide variety of contexts ranging from vaccinology to therapeutics. In particular, the presence of high titers of circulating auto-antibodies is implicated in the pathology and outcome of autoimmune diseases. Therefore, the molecular characterization of these hmAb provides an avenue to understanding the pathogenesis of autoimmune diseases. Additionally, the phenotype of the auto-reactive B cells may have direct relevance for therapeutic intervention. In this report, we describe a high-throughput single-cell assay, microengraving, for the screening, characterization and isolation of anti-citrullinated protein antibodies (ACPA) from peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients. Stimulated B cells are profiled at the single-cell level in a large array of sub-nanoliter nanowells (~105), assessing both the phenotype of the cells and their ability to secrete cyclic-citrullinated peptide (CCP)-specific antibodies. Single B cells secreting ACPA are retrieved by automated micromanipulation, and amplification of the immunoglobulin (Ig) heavy and light chains is performed prior to recombinant expression. The methodology offers a simple, rapid and low-cost platform for isolation of auto-reactive antibodies from low numbers of input cells and can be easily adapted for isolation and characterization of auto-reactive antibodies in other autoimmune diseases.
doi:10.1016/j.ymeth.2013.06.018
PMCID: PMC3836837  PMID: 23811296
14.  Blockade of IL-6 Trans Signaling Attenuates Pulmonary Fibrosis 
Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) is a lethal lung disease with progressive fibrosis and death within 2–3 y of diagnosis. IPF incidence and prevalence rates are increasing annually with few effective treatments available. Inhibition of IL-6 results in the attenuation of pulmonary fibrosis in mice. It is unclear whether this is due to blockade of classical signaling, mediated by membrane-bound IL-6Rα, or trans signaling, mediated by soluble IL-6Rα (sIL-6Rα). Our study assessed the role of sIL-6Rα in IPF. We demonstrated elevations of sIL-6Rα in IPF patients and in mice during the onset and progression of fibrosis. We demonstrated that protease-mediated cleavage from lung macrophages was important in production of sIL-6Rα. In vivo neutralization of sIL-6Rα attenuated pulmonary fibrosis in mice as seen by reductions in myofibroblasts, fibronectin, and collagen in the lung. In vitro activation of IL-6 trans signaling enhanced fibroblast proliferation and extracellular matrix protein production, effects relevant in the progression of pulmonary fibrosis. Taken together, these findings demonstrate that the production of sIL-6Rα from macrophages in the diseased lung contributes to IL-6 trans signaling that in turn influences events crucial in pulmonary fibrosis.
doi:10.4049/jimmunol.1302470
PMCID: PMC4169999  PMID: 25172494
15.  The Genetics of Systemic Sclerosis 
Discovery medicine  2010;10(51):134-143.
Systemic sclerosis (SSc, scleroderma) is an autoimmune disease clinically characterized by progressive fibrosis in the skin and internal organs. While the pathogenesis of SSc is not completely understood, familial studies and genetic studies suggest that SSc is a complex polygenic disease. In the current review, we will discuss recent studies investigating genetic susceptibility to SSc. Candidate gene studies have identified critical immunoregulatory genes and gene regions including BANK1, FAM167A-BLK, IL23R, IRF5, STAT4, TBX21, and TNFSF4 as susceptibility genes for the development of SSc. More recently a genome-wide association study has been performed and identified CD247 (CD3-zeta) as a novel genetic risk factor for the susceptibility to SSc. Together these genetic association studies have substantially advanced our understanding of SSc pathogenesis and form the foundation for future studies seeking to understand the complexities of SSc.
PMCID: PMC3803145  PMID: 20807474
16.  IRF5 polymorphism predicts prognosis in patients with systemic sclerosis 
Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases  2012;71(7):1197-1202.
Objective
The first genome-wide association study (GWAS) of systemic sclerosis (SSc) demonstrated three non-major histocompatibility complex (MHC) susceptibility loci. The goal of this study was to investigate the impact of these gene variants on survival and severity of interstitial lung disease (ILD) in SSc.
Methods
The authors examined 1443 Caucasian SSc patients enrolled in the Genetics versus Environment In Scleroderma Outcome Study (GENISOS) and Scleroderma Family Registry (n = 914 – discovery cohort) and The Johns Hopkins Scleroderma Cohort (n = 529 – replication cohort). Forced vital capacity (FVC)% predicted was used as a surrogate for ILD severity. Five single nucleotide polymorphisms, IRF5 (rs10488631, rs12537284, rs4728142), STAT4 (rs3821236), CD247 (rs2056626) reached genome-wide significance in the SSc-GWAS and were examined in the current study.
Results
Overall, 15.5% of the patients had died over the follow-up period of 5.5 years. The IRF5 rs4728142 minor allele was predictive of longer survival in the discovery cohort (p = 0.021) and in the independent replication cohort (p = 0.047) and combined group (HR: 0.75, 95% CI 0.62 to 0.90, p = 0.002). The association of this SNP with survival was independent of age at disease onset, disease type and autoantibody profile (anticentromere and antitopoisomerase antibodies). The minor allele frequency of IRF5 rs4728142 was 49.4%.
Moreover, IRF5 rs4728142 minor allele correlated with higher FVC% predicted at enrolment (p = 0.019). Finally, the IRF5 rs4728142 minor allele was associated with lower IRF5 transcript expression in patients and controls (p = 0.016 and p = 0.034, respectively), suggesting that the IRF5, rs4728142 SNP, may be functionally relevant.
Conclusion
An SNP in the IRF5 promoter region (rs4728142), associated with lower IRF5 transcript levels, was predictive of longer survival and milder ILD in patients with SSc.
doi:10.1136/annrheumdis-2011-200901
PMCID: PMC3375372  PMID: 22440820
17.  A GWAS follow-up study reveals the association of the IL12RB2 gene with systemic sclerosis in Caucasian populations 
Human Molecular Genetics  2011;21(4):926-933.
A single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) at the IL12RB2 locus showed a suggestive association signal in a previously published genome-wide association study (GWAS) in systemic sclerosis (SSc). Aiming to reveal the possible implication of the IL12RB2 gene in SSc, we conducted a follow-up study of this locus in different Caucasian cohorts. We analyzed 10 GWAS-genotyped SNPs in the IL12RB2 region (2309 SSc patients and 5161 controls). We then selected three SNPs (rs3790567, rs3790566 and rs924080) based on their significance level in the GWAS, for follow-up in an independent European cohort comprising 3344 SSc and 3848 controls. The most-associated SNP (rs3790567) was further tested in an independent cohort comprising 597 SSc patients and 1139 controls from the USA. After conditional logistic regression analysis of the GWAS data, we selected rs3790567 [PMH= 1.92 × 10−5 odds ratio (OR) = 1.19] as the genetic variant with the firmest independent association observed in the analyzed GWAS peak of association. After the first follow-up phase, only the association of rs3790567 was consistent (PMH= 4.84 × 10−3 OR = 1.12). The second follow-up phase confirmed this finding (Pχ2 = 2.82 × 10−4 OR = 1.34). After performing overall pooled-analysis of all the cohorts included in the present study, the association found for the rs3790567 SNP in the IL12RB2 gene region reached GWAS-level significant association (PMH= 2.82 × 10−9 OR = 1.17). Our data clearly support the IL12RB2 genetic association with SSc, and suggest a relevant role of the interleukin 12 signaling pathway in SSc pathogenesis.
doi:10.1093/hmg/ddr522
PMCID: PMC3298110  PMID: 22076442
18.  Novel identification of the IRF7 region as an anticentromere autoantibody propensity locus in systemic sclerosis 
Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases  2011;71(1):114-119.
Objective
Systemic sclerosis (SSc) and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) are related chronic autoimmune diseases of complex aetiology in which the interferon (IFN) pathway plays a key role. Recent studies have reported an association between IRF7 and SLE which confers a risk to autoantibody production. A study was undertaken to investigate whether the IRF7 genomic region is also involved in susceptibility to SSc and the main clinical features.
Methods
Two case-control sets of Caucasian origin from the USA and Spain, comprising a total of 2316 cases of SSc and 2347 healthy controls, were included in the study. Five single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in the PHRF1-IRF7-CDHR5 locus were genotyped using TaqMan allelic discrimination technology. A meta-analysis was performed to test the overall effect of these genetic variants on SSc.
Results
Four out of five analysed SNPs were Significantly associated with the presence of anticentromere autoantibodies (ACA) in the patients with SSc in the combined analysis (rs1131665: pFDR=6.14 × 10−4, OR=0.78; rs4963128: pFDR=6.14 × 10−4, OR=0.79; rs702966: pFDR=3.83 × 10−3, OR=0.82; and rs2246614: pFDR=3.83 × 10−3, OR=0.83). Significant p values were also obtained when the disease was tested globally; however, the statistical significance was lost when the ACA-positive patients were excluded from the study, suggesting that these associations rely on ACA positivity. Conditional logistic regression and allelic combination analyses suggested that the functional IRF7 SNP rs1131665 is the most likely causal variant.
Conclusions
The results show that variation in the IRF7 genomic region is associated with the presence of ACA in patients with SSc, supporting other evidence that this locus represents a common risk factor for autoantibody production in autoimmune diseases.
doi:10.1136/annrheumdis-2011-200275
PMCID: PMC3369428  PMID: 21926187
19.  Association Study of ITGAM, ITGAX, and CD58 Autoimmune Risk Loci in Systemic Sclerosis: Results from 2 Large European Caucasian Cohorts 
The Journal of Rheumatology  2011;38(6):1033-1038.
Objective
Accumulating evidence shows that shared autoimmunity is critical for the pathogenesis of many autoimmune diseases. Systemic sclerosis (SSc) belongs to the connective tissue disorders, and recent data have highlighted strong associations with autoimmunity genes shared with other autoimmune diseases. To determine whether novel risk loci associated with systemic lupus erythematosus or multiple sclerosis may confer susceptibility to SSc, we tested single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNP) from ITGAM, ITGAX, and CD58 for associations.
Methods
SNP harboring associations with autoimmune diseases, ITGAM rs9937837, ITGAX rs11574637, and CD58 rs12044852, were genotyped in 2 independent cohorts of European Caucasian ancestry: 1031 SSc patients and 1014 controls from France and 1038 SSc patients and 691 controls from the USA, providing a combined study population of 3774 individuals. ITGAM rs1143679 was additionally genotyped in the French cohort.
Results
The 4 polymorphisms were in Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium in the 2 control populations, and allelic frequencies were similar to those expected in European Caucasian populations. Allelic and genotypic frequencies for these 3 SNP were found to be statistically similar in SSc patients and controls. Subphenotype analyses for subgroups having diffuse cutaneous subtype disease, specific autoantibodies, or fibrosing alveolitis did not reveal any difference between SSc patients and controls.
Conclusion
These results obtained through 2 large cohorts of SSc patients of European Caucasian ancestry do not support the implication of ITGAM, ITGAX, and CD58 genes in the genetic susceptibility of SSc, although they were recently identified as autoimmune disease risk genes.
doi:10.3899/jrheum.101053
PMCID: PMC3404507  PMID: 21362770
SYSTEMIC SCLEROSIS; SYSTEMIC LUPUS ERYTHEMATOSUS; AUTOIMMUNITY SINGLE NUCLEOTIDE POLYMORPHISM; ITGAM; ITGAX; CD58
20.  Whole-blood Gene Expression Profiling in Ankylosing Spondylitis Shows Upregulation of Toll-like Receptor 4 and 5 
The Journal of rheumatology  2010;38(1):87-98.
Objective
To identify differentially expressed genes in peripheral blood cells (PBC) of patients with ankylosing spondylitis (AS) relative to healthy controls and controls with systemic inflammation.
Methods
We investigated PBC samples of 16 patients with AS and 14 matched controls, in addition to systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and systemic sclerosis (SSc) samples utilizing Illumina Human Ref-8 BeadChips. Candidate genes were confirmed using quantitative PCR. Subsequently, these genes were also validated in a separate sample of 27 patients with AS [before and after antitumor necrosis factor (anti-TNF) treatment] and 27 matched controls.
Results
We identified 83 differentially expressed transcripts between AS patients and controls. This gene list was filtered through the lists of differentially expressed transcripts in SLE and SSc, which resulted in identification of 52 uniquely dysregulated transcripts in AS. Many of the differentially expressed genes belonged to Toll-like receptor (TLR) and related pathways. TLR4 and TLR5 were the only dysregulated TLR subtypes among AS patients. We confirmed the overexpression of TLR4 and TLR5 in AS patients in comparison to controls (p = 0.012 and p = 0.006, respectively) and SLE (p = 0.002, p = 0.008) using quantitative PCR in the same sample. Similarly, TLR4 (p = 0.007) and TLR5 (p = 0.012) were significantly upregulated among the AS patients before anti-TNF treatment in the confirmatory sample. TLR4 (p = 0.002) and TLR5 (p = 0.025) decreased significantly after anti-TNF treatment.
Conclusion
PBC gene expression profiling in AS shows an upregulation of TLR4 and TLR5. This supports the importance of TLR subtypes in the pathogenesis of AS that are responsible for the immune response to Gram-negative bacteria.
doi:10.3899/jrheum.100469
PMCID: PMC3014385  PMID: 20952467
ANKYLOSING SPONDYLITIS; TOLL-LIKE RECEPTORS; IMMUNE SYSTEM; AUTOIMMUNITY; BACTERIA; GENE EXPRESSION PROFILING
21.  Gene Expression Changes in Multiple Sclerosis Relapse Suggest Activation of T and Non-T Cells 
Molecular Medicine  2010;17(1-2):95-102.
A defining feature of multiple sclerosis (MS) is the occurrence of clinical relapses separated by periods of clinical stability. Better understanding of the events underlying clinical relapse might suggest new approaches to treatment. The objective of this study was to measure changes in the expression of RNA in the blood during relapse. We used microarrays to measure mRNA expression in paired samples from 14 MS patients during clinical relapse and while stable. Seventy-one transcripts changed expression at the P < 0.001 significance level. The most notable finding was decreased expression of transcripts with regulatory function, expressed primarily in non-T cells. These decreased transcripts included the interleukin-1 receptor antagonist, which had a corresponding decrease in the protein concentration in serum. Transcripts with increased expression were expressed primarily in T cells. Pathways analysis suggested involvement of the cytokine network, coagulation and complement cascades, IL-10 signaling and NF-κB signaling. We conclude that there are alterations of mRNA expression in both T cells and non-T cells during MS relapse.
doi:10.2119/molmed.2010.00071
PMCID: PMC3022990  PMID: 20882258
22.  Polymorphisms in TBX21 and STAT4 Increase the Risk of Systemic Sclerosis 
Arthritis and rheumatism  2009;60(12):3794-3806.
Objective
Systemic sclerosis (SSc) is an autoimmune disease characterized by fibrosis of the skin and internal organs. Dysregulation of the immune system, including the Th1/Th2 cytokine balance, is central to the pathogenesis of SSc. This study was undertaken to investigate the hypothesis that single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in TBX21 and STAT4, both of which are critical transcription factors that regulate the Th1/Th2 balance, are associated with SSc susceptibility.
Methods
We tested SNPs in TBX21 and STAT4 for association with SSc in 2 independent cohorts, the SSc Registry cohort (880 SSc cases and 507 controls) and the University of Texas SSc cohort (522 cases and 531 controls). Additional white control genotypes were obtained from public repositories. We also investigated for gene–gene interactions. Plasma cytokines and whole blood gene expression profiles were examined to determine functional effects of these SNPs.
Results
Multiple SNPs in TBX21 and STAT4 were found to be associated with SSc. In a combined analysis of 902 SSc patients and 4,745 controls, TT genotyping of the TBX21 rs11650354 variant revealed a recessive pattern for disease susceptibility (Pcorr = 1.4 × 10−15, odds ratio 3.37, 95% confidence interval 2.4–4.6). In an analysis of 1,039 SSc patients and 3,322 controls, the A allele of the STAT4 variant rs11889341 was associated with increased SSc susceptibility in a dominant pattern (Pcorr = 2.4 × 10−5, odds ratio 1.29, 95% confidence interval 1.2–1.5). Furthermore, we identified gene–gene interaction among the TBX21 and STAT4 variants, such that the STAT4 genotype increased the risk of SSc only in the TBX21 CC genotype group. SSc patients carrying the TBX21 CC genotype had higher interleukin-6 (IL-6) and tumor necrosis factor α levels, and those with the TT genotype had elevated IL-2, IL-5, IL-4, and IL-13 (Th2) levels, compared with controls. Whole blood expression profiles revealed dysregulation of type I interferon pathways in the CC group and T cell pathways in the TT group of the TBX21 SNP.
Conclusion
The present results, from studies of 2 independent cohorts, indicate that SNPs in TBX21 and STAT4 contribute uniquely and interactively to SSc susceptibility, leading to altered cytokine balance and immune dysregulation.
doi:10.1002/art.24958
PMCID: PMC2998060  PMID: 19950257
23.  Genome-wide association study of systemic sclerosis identifies CD247 as a novel susceptibility locus 
Nature genetics  2010;42(5):426-429.
Systemic sclerosis (SSc) is an autoimmune disease characterized by fibrosis of the skin and internal organs that leads to profound disability and premature death. To identify novel SSc susceptibility loci we conducted the first genome wide association study (GWAS) in a population of Caucasian ancestry including a total of 2296 SSc patients and 5171 controls. Analysis of 279,621 autosomal single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) followed by replication testing in an independent case-control set of European ancestry (2,753 SSc patients / 4,569 controls) identified a new susceptibility locus for systemic sclerosis at CD247 (1q22-23; rs2056626, P = 2.09 × 10−7 in the discovery samples, P = 3.39 × 10−9 in the combined analysis). Additionally, we confirm and firmly establish the role of MHC (2.31 × 10−18), IRF5 (P =1.86 × 10−13) and STAT4 (P =3.37 × 10−9) gene regions as SSc genetic risk factors.
doi:10.1038/ng.565
PMCID: PMC2861917  PMID: 20383147
24.  Major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class II alleles, haplotypes and epitopes which confer susceptibility or protection in systemic sclerosis: analyses in 1300 Caucasian, African-American and Hispanic cases and 1000 controls 
Annals of the rheumatic diseases  2009;69(5):822-827.
Objective
To determine human leucocyte antigen-class II (HLA-class II) (DRB1, DQB1, DQA1 and DPB1) alleles, haplotypes and shared epitopes associated with scleroderma (systemic sclerosis (SSc)) and its subphenotypes in a large multi-ethnic US cohort by a case–control association study.
Patients and methods
1300 SSc cases (961 white, 178 black and 161 Hispanic subjects) characterised for clinical skin forms (limited vs diffuse), SSc-specific autoantibodies (anticentromere (ACA), anti-topoisomerase I (ATA), anti-RNA polymerase III (ARA), anti-U3 ribonucleoprotein (fibrillarin)) and others were studied using molecular genotyping. Statistical analyses in SSc itself by ethnicity, gender, skin type and autoantibodies were performed using exact logistic regression modelling for dominant, additive and recessive effects from HLA.
Results
The strongest positive class II associations with SSc in white and Hispanic subjects were the DRB1*1104, DQA1*0501, DQB1*0301 haplotype and DQB1 alleles encoding a non-leucine residue at position 26 (DQB1 26 epi), while the DRB1*0701, DQA1*0201, DQB1*0202 haplotype and DRB1*1501 haplotype were negatively correlated and possibly protective in dominant and recessive models, respectively. These associations did not discriminate between limited and diffuse SSc. SSc in black subjects was associated with DRB1*0804, DQA1*0501, DQB1*0301 alleles. DPB1*1301 showed the highest odds ratio for ATA (OR = 14). Moreover, it showed no linkage disequilibrium or gene interaction with DR/DQ. ACA was best explained by DQB1*0501 and DQB1*26 epi alleles and ARA by DRB1*0404, DRB1*11 and DQB1*03 alleles in white and Hispanic subjects but DRB1*08 in black subjects.
Conclusion
These data indicate unique and multiple HLA-class II effects in SSc, especially on autoantibody markers of different subphenotypes.
doi:10.1136/ard.2009.111906
PMCID: PMC2916702  PMID: 19596691
25.  Major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class II alleles, haplotypes and epitopes which confer susceptibility or protection in systemic sclerosis: analyses in 1300 Caucasian, African-American and Hispanic cases and 1000 controls 
Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases  2010;69(5):822-827.
Objective
To determine human leucocyte antigen-class II (HLA-class II) (DRB1, DQB1, DQA1 and DPB1) alleles, haplotypes and shared epitopes associated with scleroderma (systemic sclerosis (SSc)) and its subphenotypes in a large multi-ethnic US cohort by a case–control association study.
Patients and methods
1300 SSc cases (961 white, 178 black and 161 Hispanic subjects) characterised for clinical skin forms (limited vs diffuse), SSc-specific autoantibodies (anticentromere (ACA), anti-topoisomerase I (ATA), anti-RNA polymerase III (ARA), anti-U3 ribonucleoprotein (fibrillarin)) and others were studied using molecular genotyping. Statistical analyses in SSc itself by ethnicity, gender, skin type and autoantibodies were performed using exact logistic regression modelling for dominant, additive and recessive effects from HLA.
Results
The strongest positive class II associations with SSc in white and Hispanic subjects were the DRB1*1104, DQA1*0501, DQB1*0301 haplotype and DQB1 alleles encoding a non-leucine residue at position 26 (DQB1 26 epi), while the DRB1*0701, DQA1*0201, DQB1*0202 haplotype and DRB1*1501 haplotype were negatively correlated and possibly protective in dominant and recessive models, respectively. These associations did not discriminate between limited and diffuse SSc. SSc in black subjects was associated with DRB1*0804, DQA1*0501, DQB1*0301 alleles. DPB1*1301 showed the highest odds ratio for ATA (OR = 14). Moreover, it showed no linkage disequilibrium or gene interaction with DR/DQ. ACA was best explained by DQB1*0501 and DQB1*26 epi alleles and ARA by DRB1*0404, DRB1*11 and DQB1*03 alleles in white and Hispanic subjects but DRB1*08 in black subjects.
Conclusion
These data indicate unique and multiple HLA-class II effects in SSc, especially on autoantibody markers of different subphenotypes.
doi:10.1136/ard.2009.111906
PMCID: PMC2916702  PMID: 19596691

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