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1.  New insight on the Xq28 association with systemic sclerosis 
Annals of the rheumatic diseases  2013;72(12):10.1136/annrheumdis-2012-202742.
Objective
To evaluate whether the systemic sclerosis (SSc)-associated IRAK1 non-synonymous single-nucleotide polymorphism rs1059702 is responsible for the Xq28 association with SSc or whether there are other independent signals in the nearby methyl-CpG-binding protein 2 gene (MECP2).
Methods
We analysed a total of 3065 women with SSc and 2630 unaffected controls from five independent Caucasian cohorts. Four tag single-nucleotide polymorphisms of MECP2 (rs3027935, rs17435, rs5987201 and rs5945175) and the IRAK1 variant rs1059702 were genotyped using TaqMan predesigned assays. A meta-analysis including all cohorts was performed to test the overall effect of these Xq28 polymorphisms on SSc.
Results
IRAK1 rs1059702 and MECP2 rs17435 were associated specifically with diffuse cutaneous SSc (PFDR=4.12×10−3, OR=1.27, 95% CI 1.09 to 1.47, and PFDR=5.26×10−4, OR=1.30, 95% CI 1.14 to 1.48, respectively), but conditional logistic regression analysis showed that the association of IRAK1 rs1059702 with this subtype was explained by that of MECP2 rs17435. On the other hand, IRAK1 rs1059702 was consistently associated with presence of pulmonary fibrosis (PF), because statistical significance was observed when comparing SSc patients PF+ versus controls (PFDR=0.039, OR=1.30, 95% CI 1.07 to 1.58) and SSc patients PF+ versus SSc patients PF− (p=0.025, OR=1.26, 95% CI 1.03 to 1.55).
Conclusions
Our data clearly suggest the existence of two independent signals within the Xq28 region, one located in IRAK1 related to PF and another in MECP2 related to diffuse cutaneous SSc, indicating that both genes may have an impact on the clinical outcome of the disease.
doi:10.1136/annrheumdis-2012-202742
PMCID: PMC3818491  PMID: 23444193
2.  What does global gene expression profiling tell us about the pathogenesis of systemic sclerosis? 
Current opinion in rheumatology  2013;25(6):686-691.
Purpose of review
The purpose of this study is to review recent hypothesis-driven studies that utilize global gene expression data for elucidating the molecular basis of systemic sclerosis (SSc) and its various clinical manifestations.
Recent findings
The longitudinal skin gene expression studies indicate that the previously identified molecular subsets are stable over time and might identify inherent subgroups of SSc patients. Skin transcript follow-up studies indicate that the Wnt/β-catenin pathway plays an important role in promotion of fibrogenesis in fibroblasts and preadipocytes. Furthermore, the transcript profile of sclerodermatous graft-versus-host disease (sclGVHD) mice resembles the skin transcriptomes of a subgroup of SSc patients with IL13/IL4-inducible skin signature wherein the profibrotic chemokine CCL2 plays a key role. The comparison of skin biopsies from SSc patients to skin lesions of patients with cutaneous lupus and dermatomyositis has provided valuable information about the interferon (IFN) signature in these autoimmune diseases. Furthermore, plasma IFN-inducible chemokines correlate with the IFN gene expression score in SSc patients, enabling researchers to examine this molecular signature in large SSc cohorts with serum or plasma collection.
Summary
Global gene expression profiling in skin and peripheral blood can contribute to a better understanding of SSc pathogenesis and identify novel biomarkers and therapeutic targets.
doi:10.1097/01.bor.0000434672.77891.41
PMCID: PMC3929183  PMID: 24061076
gene expression profiling; pathogenesis; systemic sclerosis
3.  Skin Gene Expression Correlates of Severity of Interstitial Lung Disease in Systemic Sclerosis 
Arthritis and rheumatism  2013;65(11):2917-2927.
Objective
We undertook this hypothesis-generating study to identify skin transcripts correlating with severity of interstitial lung disease (ILD) in systemic sclerosis (SSc).
Methods
Skin biopsy samples from 59 patients enrolled in the Genetics versus Environment in Scleroderma Outcome Study (GENISOS) cohort or an open-label imatinib study (baseline visit) were examined by global gene expression analysis using Illumina HT-12 arrays. Skin transcripts correlating with concomitantly obtained forced vital capacity (FVC) values and the modified Rodnan skin thickness score (MRSS) were identified by quantitative trait analysis. Also, immunofluorescence staining for selected transcripts was performed in affected skin and lung tissue. Plasma levels of CCL2, soluble SELP, and soluble P-selectin glycoprotein ligand 1 (sPSGL-1) were examined in all patients enrolled in the GENISOS cohort (n = 266).
Results
Eighty-two skin transcripts correlated significantly with FVC. This gene list distinguished patients with more severe ILD (FVC <70% predicted) in unsupervised hierarchical clustering analysis (P < 0.001). These genes included SELP, CCL2, and matrix metalloproteinase 3, which are involved in extravasation and adhesion of inflammatory cells. Among the FVC correlates, 8 genes (CCL2, HAPLN3, GPR4, ADCYAP1, WARS, CDC25B, PLP1, and STXBP6) also correlated with the MRSS. Immunofluorescence staining revealed that SELP and CCL2 were also overexpressed in affected skin and lung tissue from SSc patients compared to those from controls. Plasma levels of CCL2 and sPSGL-1 correlated with concomitantly obtained FVC values (r = −0.22, P = 0.001 and r = 0.17, P = 0.015, respectively). This relationship was independent of potential confounders (age, sex, ethnicity, smoking status, anti–topoisomerase I positivity, treatment with immunosuppressive agents, MRSS, disease type, and disease duration).
Conclusion
A limited number of skin transcripts including genes involved in extravasation and adhesion of inflammatory cells correlate with severity of ILD.
doi:10.1002/art.38101
PMCID: PMC3898704  PMID: 23897225
4.  A systemic sclerosis and systemic lupus erythematosus pan-meta-GWAS reveals new shared susceptibility loci 
Human Molecular Genetics  2013;22(19):4021-4029.
Systemic sclerosis (SSc) and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) are two archetypal systemic autoimmune diseases which have been shown to share multiple genetic susceptibility loci. In order to gain insight into the genetic basis of these diseases, we performed a pan-meta-analysis of two genome-wide association studies (GWASs) together with a replication stage including additional SSc and SLE cohorts. This increased the sample size to a total of 21 109 (6835 cases and 14 274 controls). We selected for replication 19 SNPs from the GWAS data. We were able to validate KIAA0319L (P = 3.31 × 10−11, OR = 1.49) as novel susceptibility loci for SSc and SLE. Furthermore, we also determined that the previously described SLE susceptibility loci PXK (P = 3.27 × 10−11, OR = 1.20) and JAZF1 (P = 1.11 × 10−8, OR = 1.13) are shared with SSc. Supporting these new discoveries, we observed that KIAA0319L was overexpressed in peripheral blood cells of SSc and SLE patients compared with healthy controls. With these, we add three (KIAA0319L, PXK and JAZF1) and one (KIAA0319L) new susceptibility loci for SSc and SLE, respectively, increasing significantly the knowledge of the genetic basis of autoimmunity.
doi:10.1093/hmg/ddt248
PMCID: PMC3766185  PMID: 23740937
5.  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
6.  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.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0106939
PMCID: PMC4153724  PMID: 25184637
7.  Autoimmune Disease Genetics 2013 
Journal of Immunology Research  2014;2014:487643.
doi:10.1155/2014/487643
PMCID: PMC4140134  PMID: 25165727
8.  Can Serum Surfactant Protein D or CC-Chemokine Ligand 18 Predict Outcome of Interstitial Lung Disease in Patients with Early Systemic Sclerosis? 
The Journal of rheumatology  2013;40(7):1114-1120.
Objective
To examine the predictive significance of 2 pneumoproteins, surfactant protein D (SP-D) and CC-chemokine ligand 18 (CCL18), for the course of systemic sclerosis (SSc)-related interstitial lung disease.
Methods
The pneumoproteins were determined in the baseline plasma samples of 266 patients with early SSc enrolled in the GENISOS observational cohort. They also were measured in 83 followup patient samples. Pulmonary function tests were obtained annually. The primary outcome was decline in forced vital capacity (FVC percentage predicted) over time. The predictive significance for longterm change in FVC was investigated by a joint analysis of longitudinal measurements (sequentially obtained FVC percentage predicted) and survival data.
Results
SP-D and CCL18 levels were both higher in patients with SSc than in matched controls (p < 0.001 and p = 0.015, respectively). Baseline SP-D levels correlated with lower concomitantly obtained FVC (r = −0.27, p < 0.001), but did not predict the short-term decline in FVC at 1 year followup visit or its longterm decline rate. CCL18 showed a significant correlation with steeper short-term decline in FVC (p = 0.049), but was not a predictor of its longterm decline rate. Similarly, a composite score of SP-D and CCL18 was a significant predictor of short-term decline in FVC but did not predict its longterm decline rate. Further, the longitudinal change in these 2 pneumoproteins did not correlate with the concomitant percentage change in FVC.
Conclusion
SP-D correlated with concomitantly obtained FVC, while CCL18 was a predictor of short-term decline in FVC. However, neither SP-D nor CCL18 was a longterm predictor of FVC course in patients with early SSc.
doi:10.3899/jrheum.120997
PMCID: PMC3728890  PMID: 23588945
SYSTEMIC SCLEROSIS; SURFACTANT D
9.  Does C-Reactive Protein Predict the Long-Term Progression of Interstitial Lung Disease and Survival in Patients With Early Systemic Sclerosis? 
Arthritis care & research  2013;65(8):10.1002/acr.21968.
Objective
There are no identified clinical markers that reliably predict long-term progression of interstitial lung disease (ILD) in systemic sclerosis (SSc; scleroderma). Elevated C-reactive protein (CRP) levels have been reported in SSc patients. We examined the predictive significance of CRP level for long-term ILD progression in a large early SSc cohort.
Methods
First, the CRP levels were compared between baseline samples of 266 SSc patients enrolled in the Genetics Versus Environment in Scleroderma Outcome Study cohort and 97 unaffected matched controls. Subsequently, the correlation between CRP levels and concomitantly obtained markers of disease severity was assessed. Serially obtained % predicted forced vital capacity (FVC) was used to examine the long-term ILD progression. The predictive significance of CRP level was investigated by a joint analysis of longitudinal measurements (serial FVCs up to 13 years) and survival data. This approach allowed inclusion of all 1,016 FVC measurements and accounted for survival dependency.
Results
We confirmed that baseline CRP levels were higher in SSc patients than controls. CRP levels were associated with absence of anticentromere antibodies and correlated with the concomitant severity of lung, skin, and joint involvement. More importantly, higher baseline CRP levels were associated with shorter survival (P < 0.001) and predicted the long-term decline in FVC independent of potential confounders (age at baseline, sex, ethnicity, disease type, current smoking, body mass index, topoisomerase status, and treatment with immunosuppressive agents) in the multivariable model (P = 0.006).
Conclusion
Baseline CRP levels are predictive of long-term ILD progression. CRP level might aid clinicians in identifying patients that require more intensive monitoring and treatment.
doi:10.1002/acr.21968
PMCID: PMC3816494  PMID: 23401350
10.  Measuring Illness Behavior in Patients with Systemic Sclerosis 
Arthritis care & research  2013;65(4):585-593.
Objective
Illness behaviors (cognitive, affective, and behavioral reactions) among individuals with systemic sclerosis (SSc) are of clinical concern due to relationships between these behaviors and physical and mental-health quality of life such as pain and symptoms of depression. Self-report measures with good psychometric properties can aid in the accurate assessment of illness behavior. The Illness Behavior Questionnaire (IBQ) was designed to measure abnormal illness behaviors; however, despite its long-standing use, there is disagreement regarding its subscales. The goal of the present study was to evaluate the validity of the IBQ in a cohort of patients with SSc.
Methods
Patients with SSc (N = 278) completed the IBQ at enrollment to the Genetics versus ENvironment In Scleroderma Outcome Study (GENISOS). Structural validity of previously derived factor solutions was investigated using confirmatory factor analysis. Exploratory factor analysis was utilized to derive SSc-specific subscales.
Results
None of the previously derived structural models were supported for SSc patients. Exploratory factor analysis supported a SSc-specific factor structure with 5 subscales. Validity analyses suggested that the subscales were generally independent of disease severity, but were correlated with other health outcomes (i.e., fatigue, pain, disability, social support, mental health).
Conclusion
The proposed subscales are recommended for use in SSc, and can be utilized to capture illness behavior that may be of clinical concern.
doi:10.1002/acr.21874
PMCID: PMC3578093  PMID: 23097280
11.  Confirmation of TNIP1 but not RHOB and PSORS1C1 as systemic sclerosis risk factors in a large independent replication study 
Annals of the rheumatic diseases  2012;72(4):10.1136/annrheumdis-2012-201888.
Introduction
A recent genome-wide association study in European systemic sclerosis (SSc) patients identified three loci (PSORS1C1, TNIP1 and RHOB) as novel genetic risk factors for the disease. The aim of this study was to replicate the previously mentioned findings in a large multicentre independent SSc cohort of Caucasian ancestry.
Methods
4389 SSc patients and 7611 healthy controls from different European countries and the USA were included in the study. Six single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNP): rs342070, rs13021401 (RHOB), rs2233287, rs4958881, rs3792783 (TNIP1) and rs3130573 (PSORS1C1) were analysed. Overall significance was calculated by pooled analysis of all the cohorts. Haplotype analyses and conditional logistic regression analyses were carried out to explore further the genetic structure of the tested loci.
Results
Pooled analyses of all the analysed SNPs in TNIP1 revealed significant association with the whole disease (rs2233287 pMH=1.94×10−4, OR 1.19; rs4958881 pMH=3.26×10−5, OR 1.19; rs3792783 pMH=2.16×10−4, OR 1.19). These associations were maintained in all the subgroups considered. PSORS1C1 comparison showed association with the complete set of patients and all the subsets except for the anti-centromere-positive patients. However, the association was dependent on different HLA class II alleles. The variants in the RHOB gene were not associated with SSc or any of its subsets.
Conclusions
These data confirmed the influence of TNIP1 on an increased susceptibility to SSc and reinforced this locus as a common autoimmunity risk factor.
doi:10.1136/annrheumdis-2012-201888
PMCID: PMC3887516  PMID: 22896740
12.  New directions for patient-centred care in scleroderma: the Scleroderma Patient-centred Intervention Network (SPIN) 
Clinical and experimental rheumatology  2012;30(2 0 71):S23-S29.
Systemic sclerosis (SSc), or scleroderma, is a chronic multisystem autoimmune disorder characterised by thickening and fibrosis of the skin and by the involvement of internal organs such as the lungs, kidneys, gastrointestinal tract, and heart. Because there is no cure, feasibly-implemented and easily accessible evidence-based interventions to improve health-related quality of life (HRQoL) are needed. Due to a lack of evidence, however, specific recommendations have not been made regarding non-pharmacological interventions (e.g. behavioural/psychological, educational, physical/occupational therapy) to improve HRQoL in SSc. The Scleroderma Patient-centred Intervention Network (SPIN) was recently organised to address this gap. SPIN is comprised of patient representatives, clinicians, and researchers from Canada, the USA, and Europe. The goal of SPIN, as described in this article, is to develop, test, and disseminate a set of accessible interventions designed to complement standard care in order to improve HRQoL outcomes in SSc.
PMCID: PMC3925434  PMID: 22244687
scleroderma; psychosocial; health-related quality of life; patient-centred care
13.  A genome-wide association study follow-up suggests a possible role for PPARG in systemic sclerosis susceptibility 
Introduction
A recent genome-wide association study (GWAS) comprising a French cohort of systemic sclerosis (SSc) reported several non-HLA single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) showing a nominal association in the discovery phase. We aimed to identify previously overlooked susceptibility variants by using a follow-up strategy.
Methods
Sixty-six non-HLA SNPs showing a P value <10-4 in the discovery phase of the French SSc GWAS were analyzed in the first step of this study, performing a meta-analysis that combined data from the two published SSc GWASs. A total of 2,921 SSc patients and 6,963 healthy controls were included in this first phase. Two SNPs, PPARG rs310746 and CHRNA9 rs6832151, were selected for genotyping in the replication cohort (1,068 SSc patients and 6,762 healthy controls) based on the results of the first step. Genotyping was performed by using TaqMan SNP genotyping assays.
Results
We observed nominal associations for both PPARG rs310746 (PMH = 1.90 × 10-6, OR, 1.28) and CHRNA9 rs6832151 (PMH = 4.30 × 10-6, OR, 1.17) genetic variants with SSc in the first step of our study. In the replication phase, we observed a trend of association for PPARG rs310746 (P value = 0.066; OR, 1.17). The combined overall Mantel-Haenszel meta-analysis of all the cohorts included in the present study revealed that PPARG rs310746 remained associated with SSc with a nominal non-genome-wide significant P value (PMH = 5.00 × 10-7; OR, 1.25). No evidence of association was observed for CHRNA9 rs6832151 either in the replication phase or in the overall pooled analysis.
Conclusion
Our results suggest a role of PPARG gene in the development of SSc.
doi:10.1186/ar4432
PMCID: PMC3978735  PMID: 24401602
14.  Correction: Right Bundle Branch Block: A Predictor of Mortality in Early Systemic Sclerosis 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(1):10.1371/annotation/f04ec0d0-8e33-487b-a619-b45ffbce6e3c.
doi:10.1371/annotation/f04ec0d0-8e33-487b-a619-b45ffbce6e3c
PMCID: PMC3882187
15.  Interferon Inducible Chemokines Correlate with Disease Severity in Systemic Sclerosis 
Arthritis and rheumatism  2013;65(1):226-235.
Objective
To measure interferon (IFN) inducible chemokines in plasma of patients with systemic sclerosis (SSc) and investigate their correlation with disease severity.
Methods
We examined the correlation of IFN-inducible chemokines, IFNγ-inducible protein-10 (IP-10/CXCL10), IFN-inducible T cell alpha chemoattractant (I-TAC/CXCL11), and monocyte chemoattractant protein-1 (MCP-1/CCL2) with the IFN gene expression signature. We generated an IFN-inducible chemokine score with the correlated chemokines, IP-10 and I-TAC and compared it in 266 SSc patients enrolled in the GENISOS cohort to that of 97 matched controls. Subsequently, the correlation between the baseline IFN-inducible chemokine score and markers of disease severity was assessed. Finally, the course of IFN-inducible chemokine score over time was examined.
Results
The plasma IFN-inducible chemokine score correlated with the IFN gene expression signature and this score was higher in SSc patients. It also was associated with the absence of anti–RNA polymerase III antibodies, presence of anti–U1 ribonucleoprotein antibodies (RNP), but not with disease duration, type, or other autoantibodies. The chemokine scores correlated with concomitantly obtained muscle, skin and lung components of the Medsger Severity Index, as well as, FVC, DLco, creatine kinase. Its association with disease severity was independent of anti-RNP or other potential confounders (age, gender, ethnicity, disease duration, and treatment with immunosuppressive agents). Finally, there was not a significant change in the IFN-inducible chemokine score over time.
Conclusions
The IFN-inducible chemokine score is a stable serological marker of more severe subtype of SSc and may be useful for risk stratification regardless of disease type or duration.
doi:10.1002/art.37742
PMCID: PMC3687352  PMID: 23055137
16.  Lack of Association of the CD247 SNP rs2056626 with Systemic Sclerosis in Han Chinese 
Systemic sclerosis (SSc) is a complex disease involving multiple genetic factors. A recent genome-wide association study (GWAS) indicated that CD247 was strongly associated with SSc, which was subsequently confirmed in a SSc cohort of European population. However, genetic heterogeneity in different ethnic populations may significantly impact the complex trait of SSc. The studies herein aimed to examine whether the SSc-associated SNP rs2056626 of CD247 identified in Caucasian is also associated with Han Chinese SSc. A Han Chinese cohort consisting of 387 SSc patients and 523 healthy controls were examined in the studies. TaqMan assays were performed to examine the SNP. Exact p-values were obtained (Fisher’s test) from 2x2 tables of allele counts and disease status. The results showed that there was no association between rs2056626 of CD247 and SSc or any SSc subtypes of Han Chinese. The negative results are important in understanding genetics of SSc in different ethnic populations, which further suggest complex nature of genetics of SSc.
doi:10.2174/1874312901408010043
PMCID: PMC4192828  PMID: 25317213
CD247; Chinese population; genetics; polymorphism/SNP; scleroderma systemic sclerosis/SSc.
17.  Right Bundle Branch Block: A Predictor of Mortality in Early Systemic Sclerosis 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(10):e78808.
Objective
To evaluate the prognostic significance of baseline electrocardiogram (ECG) abnormalities in a multiethnic cohort of patients with early systemic sclerosis (SSc) and to determine the serological, clinical, and echocardiogram correlates of ECG findings.
Methods
SSc patients with disease duration of≤5 years were enrolled in the GENISOS (Genetics versus Environment in Scleroderma Outcome Study) cohort. At the first visit, a standard 12 lead ECG was obtained along with demographic information, clinical data, and autoantibodies. The results of echocardiograms were also recorded. All ECGs were interpreted by a cardiologist unaware of the patients' clinical data.
Results
Of 265 SSc patients with average disease duration at enrollment of 2.5 years, 140 (52.8%) had abnormal ECG findings. These findings were not associated with SSc disease type or autoantibody profile but were associated with more severe heart and lung involvement. A total of 75 patients (28.3%) died over a follow up time of 9.9 years. Complete right bundle branch block (± left anterior hemiblock) on ECG, present in 7 (2.6%) patients, predicted a higher risk of mortality (HR: 5.3; 95% CI: 2.1 to 13.4; p<0.001). The predictive significance of right bundle branch block was independent of age at enrollment, gender, ethnicity and risk factors for coronary artery disease.
Conclusion
ECG abnormalities are common in patients with early SSc and are associated with the severity of lung and heart involvement. Right bundle branch block is an independent predictor of mortality, and should be considered a marker of disease severity in SSc.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0078808
PMCID: PMC3814983  PMID: 24205321
18.  Clinical and serological features of systemic sclerosis in a Chinese cohort 
Clinical rheumatology  2012;32(5):617-621.
Our goal was to study the prevalence of systemic sclerosis (SSc) subtypes, autoantibody profile, and pulmonary fibrosis in a large group of Han Chinese. Chinese SSc patients (n=419) were recruited from a multicenter study including hospitals and outpatient clinics in China. All patients met the American College of Rheumatology classification criteria for SSc. Anti-topoisomerase (ATA), anti-centromere (ACA), anti- RNA polymerase III (anti-RNAP3), and anti-U1- ribonucleoprotein (anti-U1RNP) were detected utilizing commercially available kits. The clinical and autoantibody information in Chinese patients was compared to that in the US Caucasian patients (n=834), recruited from the Genetics versus Environment in Scleroderma Outcome Study and Scleroderma Family Registry. Chi-square test was utilized for the abovementioned comparisons. Chinese patients showed 40.3 % limited (lcSSc) and 59.7 % diffuse (dcSSc) forms of SSc. ATA was found in 59.9 %, ACA in 13.4 %, anti-RNAP3 in 1.3 %, and anti-U1RNP in 18 % of Chinese SSc patients. Compared to US patients (65.1 % lcSSc, 34.9 % dcSSc, ATA in 18.7 %, ACA in 32.4 %, anti-RNAP3 in 17.4 %, and anti-U1RNP in 2.8 %), Chinese SSc patients are significantly higher in dcSSc and the frequencies of ATA and anti-U1RNP, but lower in ACA and anti-RNAP3. In addition, pulmonary fibrosis was observed in 78 % Chinese SSc patients and was strongly associated with the presence of ATA. The present study represents the first report of SSc features in a large group of Chinese patients. Clinical subtypes and the frequencies of SSc-related autoantibodies in Chinese SSc patients are significantly different from those in SSc patients of the US Caucasian descent.
doi:10.1007/s10067-012-2145-7
PMCID: PMC3734856  PMID: 23271609
Anti-centromere antibody; Anti-topoisomerase antibody; Autoantibodies; Pulmonary fibrosis; Systemic sclerosis
19.  The Scleroderma Patient-centered Intervention Network (SPIN) Cohort: protocol for a cohort multiple randomised controlled trial (cmRCT) design to support trials of psychosocial and rehabilitation interventions in a rare disease context 
BMJ Open  2013;3(8):e003563.
Introduction
Psychosocial and rehabilitation interventions are increasingly used to attenuate disability and improve health-related quality of life (HRQL) in chronic diseases, but are typically not available for patients with rare diseases. Conducting rigorous, adequately powered trials of these interventions for patients with rare diseases is difficult. The Scleroderma Patient-centered Intervention Network (SPIN) is an international collaboration of patient organisations, clinicians and researchers. The aim of SPIN is to develop a research infrastructure to test accessible, low-cost self-guided online interventions to reduce disability and improve HRQL for people living with the rare disease systemic sclerosis (SSc or scleroderma). Once tested, effective interventions will be made accessible through patient organisations partnering with SPIN.
Methods and analysis
SPIN will employ the cohort multiple randomised controlled trial (cmRCT) design, in which patients consent to participate in a cohort for ongoing data collection. The aim is to recruit 1500–2000 patients from centres across the world within a period of 5 years (2013–2018). Eligible participants are persons ≥18 years of age with a diagnosis of SSc. In addition to baseline medical data, participants will complete patient-reported outcome measures every 3 months. Upon enrolment in the cohort, patients will consent to be contacted in the future to participate in intervention research and to allow their data to be used for comparison purposes for interventions tested with other cohort participants. Once interventions are developed, patients from the cohort will be randomly selected and offered interventions as part of pragmatic RCTs. Outcomes from patients offered interventions will be compared with outcomes from trial-eligible patients who are not offered the interventions.
Ethics and dissemination
The use of the cmRCT design, the development of self-guided online interventions and partnerships with patient organisations will allow SPIN to develop, rigourously test and effectively disseminate psychosocial and rehabilitation interventions for people with SSc.
doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2013-003563
PMCID: PMC3740254  PMID: 23929922
Rheumatology; Statistics & Research Methods; Rehabilitation Medicine; Mental Health
20.  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
21.  Identification of CSK as a systemic sclerosis genetic risk factor through Genome Wide Association Study follow-up 
Human Molecular Genetics  2012;21(12):2825-2835.
Systemic sclerosis (SSc) is complex autoimmune disease affecting the connective tissue; influenced by genetic and environmental components. Recently, we performed the first successful genome-wide association study (GWAS) of SSc. Here, we perform a large replication study to better dissect the genetic component of SSc. We selected 768 polymorphisms from the previous GWAS and genotyped them in seven replication cohorts from Europe. Overall significance was calculated for replicated significant SNPs by meta-analysis of the replication cohorts and replication-GWAS cohorts (3237 cases and 6097 controls). Six SNPs in regions not previously associated with SSc were selected for validation in another five independent cohorts, up to a total of 5270 SSc patients and 8326 controls. We found evidence for replication and overall genome-wide significance for one novel SSc genetic risk locus: CSK [P-value = 5.04 × 10−12, odds ratio (OR) = 1.20]. Additionally, we found suggestive association in the loci PSD3 (P-value = 3.18 × 10−7, OR = 1.36) and NFKB1 (P-value = 1.03 × 10−6, OR = 1.14). Additionally, we strengthened the evidence for previously confirmed associations. This study significantly increases the number of known putative genetic risk factors for SSc, including the genes CSK, PSD3 and NFKB1, and further confirms six previously described ones.
doi:10.1093/hmg/dds099
PMCID: PMC3368627  PMID: 22407130
22.  Gastric Antral Vascular Ectasia and Its Clinical Correlates in Patients with Early Diffuse Systemic Sclerosis in the SCOT Trial 
The Journal of rheumatology  2013;40(4):455-460.
Objective
To describe the prevalence and clinical correlates of endoscopic gastric antral vascular ectasia (GAVE; “watermelon stomach”) in early diffuse systemic sclerosis (SSc).
Methods
Subjects with early, diffuse SSc and evidence of specific internal organ involvement were considered for the Scleroderma: Cyclophosphamide Or Transplant (SCOT) trial. In the screening procedures, all patients underwent upper gastrointestinal endoscopy. Patients were then categorized into those with or without endoscopic evidence of GAVE. Demographic data, clinical disease characteristics, and autoantibody data were compared using Pearson chi-square or Student t tests.
Results
Twenty-three of 103 (22.3%) individuals were found to have GAVE on endoscopy. Although not statistically significant, anti-topoisomerase I (anti-Scl70) was detected less frequently among those with GAVE (18.8% vs 44.7%; p = 0.071). Similarly, anti-RNP antibodies (anti-U1 RNP) showed a trend to a negative association with GAVE (0 vs 18.4%; p = 0.066). There was no association between anti-RNA polymerase III and GAVE. Patients with GAVE had significantly more erythema or vascular ectasias in other parts of the stomach (26.1% vs 5.0%; p = 0.003).
Conclusion
Endoscopic GAVE was present on screening in almost one-fourth of these highly selected patients with early and severe diffuse SSc. While anti-Scl70 and anti-U1 RNP trended toward a negative association with GAVE, there was no correlation between anti-RNA Pol III and GAVE. Patients with GAVE had a higher frequency of other gastric vascular ectasias outside the antrum, suggesting that GAVE may represent part of the spectrum of the vasculopathy in SSc.
doi:10.3899/jrheum.121087
PMCID: PMC3652008  PMID: 23418384
GASTRIC ANTRAL VASCULAR ECTASIA; GAVE; SYSTEMIC SCLEROSIS VASCULOPATHY; ENDOSCOPY
23.  Is there a higher genetic load of susceptibility loci in familial ankylosing spondylitis? 
Arthritis care & research  2012;64(5):780-784.
Objective
Several genetic risk variants for ankylosing spondylitis (AS) have been identified in genome wide association studies. Our objective was to examine whether familial AS cases have a higher genetic load of these susceptibility variants.
Methods
Overall, 502 AS patients were examined, consisting of 312 who had first-degree relatives (FDR) with AS (familial) and 190 who had no FDR with AS or spondyloarthritis (sporadic). All patients and affected FDRs fulfilled the modified New York Criteria for AS. The patients were recruited from two U.S. cohorts (NASC and PSOAS) and from the United Kingdom- Oxford cohort. The frequencies of AS susceptibility loci in IL23R, IL1R2, ANTRX2, ERAP1, two intergenic regions on chromosomes 2p15 and 21q22, and HLA-B27 status as determined by the tag SNP rs4349859 were compared between familial and sporadic cases. Association between SNPs and multiplex status was assessed by logistic regression controlling for sibship size.
Results
HLA-B27 was significantly more prevalent in familial than sporadic cases of AS (p=0.0001, OR: 4.44, CI: (2.06–9.55)). Furthermore, the AS risk allele at chromosome 21q22 intergenic region showed a trend towards higher frequency in the multiplex cases (p=0.08). The frequency of the other AS risk variants did not differ significantly between familial and sporadic cases, either individually or combined.
Conclusions
HLA-B27 is more prevalent in familial than sporadic cases of AS, demonstrating higher familial aggregation of AS in patients with HLA-B27 positivity. The frequency of the recently described non-MHC susceptibility loci is not markedly different between the sporadic and familial cases of AS.
doi:10.1002/acr.21601
PMCID: PMC3335985  PMID: 22231927
24.  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
25.  Genetics of scleroderma: implications for personalized medicine? 
BMC Medicine  2013;11:9.
Significant advances have been made in understanding the genetic basis of systemic sclerosis (scleroderma) in recent years. Can these discoveries lead to individualized monitoring and treatment? Besides robustly replicated genetic susceptibility loci, several genes have been recently linked to various systemic sclerosis disease manifestations. Furthermore, inclusion of genetic studies in design and analysis of drug trials could lead to development of genetic biomarkers that predict treatment response. Future genetic studies in well-characterized systemic sclerosis cohorts paired with advanced analytic approaches can lead to development of genetic biomarkers for targeted diagnostic and therapeutic interventions in systemic sclerosis.
doi:10.1186/1741-7015-11-9
PMCID: PMC3568008  PMID: 23311619
systemic sclerosis; scleroderma; genetic; biomarker; severity

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