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1.  Changes in referral, treatment and outcomes in patients with systemic lupus erythematosus in Germany in the 1990s and the 2000s 
Lupus Science & Medicine  2014;1(1):e000059.
To evaluate trends in the referral, treatment and outcome of patients with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) in Germany over two decades.
From 1993 to 2012, ∼1200 patients with SLE were recorded annually in the national database of the German Collaborative Arthritis Centres. Treatment patterns, healthcare use and outcomes, such as disease activity, function and work participation, were evaluated over time. Furthermore, two distinct cohorts of patients (enrolment 1994–1998, n=467; and 2004–2008, n=376) observed over 5 years were assessed for changes in outcomes.
The mean disease duration at the first visit to a rheumatologist decreased from 2.6 (1994) to 1.5 (2012) years. Glucocorticoids (69%), antimalarials (56%), azathioprine (22%), non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (23%) and mycophenolate mofetil (15%) were the most frequently used treatments in 2012. A significant increase was observed in the use of antimalarials and mycophenolate mofetil. The use of glucocorticoids at >7.5 mg/day decreased from 27% (1994) to 10% (2012). The average length of sick leave taken due to SLE declined from 9 weeks (1997) to 6 weeks (2012). When comparing the two longitudinal cohorts, in the cohort from the 2000s, the intraindividual decline of disease activity was significantly stronger (p<0.001), and fewer patients retired early (36% vs 46%).
The disease activity and resource use declined considerably over the observation period, and more patients remained in the labour force. Earlier treatment onset, faster modification of the treatment regimen and more intensive use of anti-inflammatory therapy may account for the improved outcomes in patients with SLE across the years.
PMCID: PMC4271412  PMID: 25553251
Systemic Lupus Erythematosus; Treatment; Outcomes research
2.  Evaluation of the novel ultrasound score for large joints in psoriatic arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis: six month experience in daily clinical practice 
To evaluate the utility of the recently introduced SOLAR score (sonography of large joints in Rheumatology), which has been validated in RA patients, in a cohort of patients with Psoriatic Arthritis (PsA) and Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS) presenting with involvement of large peripheral joints.
The recently established SOLAR score has been designed to determine the degree of inflammation in the shoulder, the elbow, the hip and the knee joint in patients suffering from RA. Since large joints are frequently involved in PsA and AS, synovitis and synovial vascularity were scored semiquantitatively (grade 0–3) by grey scale (GSUS) and power Doppler ultrasound (PDUS) utilizing the validated scoring system. Each joint was scanned from different angles, the knee joint for example was divided into four areas to score for synovitis: the suprapatellar longitudinal, the medial longitudinal, the lateral longitudinal, and the posterior region. Each area was scored from 0–3, so a maximum score of 12 could be achieved. PsA and AS patients presenting with peripheral joint disease involving large joints were examined at baseline, 3 and 6 months after initiation of local or systemic therapy (DMARDs/Biologics). For evaluation of the inflammatory status, the erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) was determined.
A cohort of 126 patients were enclosed, and 83 of these were followed for 6 months. At baseline before modification of the therapy, patients received DMARDs (n = 83), DMARDs plus biologics (n = 30), or biologic monotherapy (n = 29). Following intervention, all US scores demonstrated a marked improvement. The GSUS and the PDUS scores for all joint areas, except the PDUS score of the hip, exhibited a significant improvement (p < 0.05), while the GSUS of the knee showed even a highly significant (p < 0.001) change. The ESR displayed a significant decrease from 27 to 19 mm (p < 0.002) representing good treatment response.
The SOLAR score, which has been recently introduced for RA patients, is a very suitable instrument for the qualitative and quantitative evaluation of large joint involvement in PsA and AS patients and allows for treatment monitoring.
PMCID: PMC3878335  PMID: 24351026
Psoriatic arthritis; Ankylosing spondylitis; Large joints; Ultrasound; Scoring
3.  The ability of synovitis to predict structural damage in rheumatoid arthritis: a comparative study between clinical examination and ultrasound 
Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases  2012;72(5):665-671.
To evaluate synovitis (clinical vs ultrasound (US)) to predict structural progression in rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
Patients with RA.
Study design
Prospective, 2-year follow-up.
Data collected
Synovitis (32 joints (2 wrists, 10 metacarpophalangeal, 10 proximal interphalangeal, 10 metatarsophalangeal)) at baseline and after 4 months of therapy by clinical, US grey scale (GS-US) and power doppler (PD-US); x-rays at baseline and at year 2.
Measures of association (OR) were tested between structural deterioration and the presence of baseline synovitis, or its persistence, after 4 months of therapy using generalised estimating equation analysis.
Structural deterioration was observed in 9% of the 1888 evaluated joints in 59 patients. Baseline synovitis increased the risk of structural progression: OR=2.01 (1.36–2.98) p<0.001 versus 1.61 (1.06–2.45) p=0.026 versus 1.75 (1.18–2.58) p=0.005 for the clinical versus US-GS versus US-PD evaluation, respectively. In the joints with normal baseline examination (clinical or US), an increased probability for structural progression in the presence of synovitis for the other modality was also observed (OR=2.16 (1.16–4.02) p=0.015 and 3.50 (1.77–6.95) p<0.001 for US-GS and US-PD and 2.79 (1.35–5.76) p=0.002) for clinical examination. Persistent (vs disappearance) synovitis after 4 months of therapy was also predictive of subsequent structural progression.
This study confirms the validity of synovitis for predicting subsequent structural deterioration irrespective of the modality of examination of joints, but also suggests that both clinical and ultrasonographic examinations may be relevant to optimally evaluate the risk of subsequent structural deterioration.
PMCID: PMC3618684  PMID: 22679298
4.  Anti-dsDNA-NcX ELISA: dsDNA-loaded nucleosomes improve diagnosis and monitoring of disease activity in systemic lupus erythematosus 
The objective of this study was to compare the clinical usefulness of the new anti-double-stranded DNA nucleosome-complexed enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (Anti-dsDNA-NcX ELISA), which is based on dsDNA-loaded nucleosomes as antigens, with established test systems based on dsDNA or nucleosomes alone for systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) diagnostics and determination of disease activity.
Sera from a cohort of 964 individuals comprising 207 SLE patients, 357 disease controls and 400 healthy donors were investigated using the Anti-dsDNA-NcX ELISA, Farr assay, Anti-dsDNA ELISA, Anti-nucleosome ELISA and Crithidia luciliae immunofluorescence (CLIF) assay, all of which are tests available from EUROIMMUN Medizinische Labordiagnostika AG (Lübeck, Germany). Receiver operating characteristic curve analyses were performed to compare the sensitivity and specificity of each assay. The test results yielded by these assays in a group of 165 fully characterized SLE patients were compared with the corresponding medical records.
The Anti-dsDNA-NcX ELISA was found to have a sensitivity of 60.9% and a specificity of 98.9% in all 964 individuals at the manufacturer's cutoff of 100 U/ml. At a comparable specificity of 99%, the sensitivity amounted to 59.9% for the Anti-dsDNA-NcX ELISA, 54.1% for the Farr assay, 53.6% for the antinucleosome ELISA and 35.8% for the anti-dsDNA ELISA. The CLIF assay had a sensitivity of 28.0% and a specificity of 98.2%. The Anti-dsDNA-NcX ELISA correlated mostly with global disease activity in a cross-sectional analysis. In a longitudinal analysis of 20 patients with 69 patient visits, changes in Anti-dsDNA-NcX ELISA and antinucleosome ELISA results correlated highly with changes in disease activity over time.
The use of dsDNA-complexed nucleosomes as antigens in ELISA leads to optimized determination of diagnosis and disease activity in SLE patients and is available for clinical practice.
PMCID: PMC3241370  PMID: 21329504
5.  Is Musculoskeletal Ultrasonography an Operator-Dependent Method or a Fast and Reliably Teachable Diagnostic Tool? Interreader Agreements of Three Ultrasonographers with Different Training Levels 
Objectives. To assess interreader agreements and a learning curve between three (senior, junior, and beginner) different experienced musculoskeletal ultrasonographers. Senior served as the imaging “gold standard”. Methods. Clinically dominant joints (finger, shoulder, knee, tibiotalar, and talonavicular) of 15 rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients were examined by three different experienced ultrasonographers (senior 10 years, junior 10 months, and beginner one month). Each patient's ultrasonographic findings were reported unaware of the other investigators' results. κ coefficients, percentage agreements, sensitivities, and specificities were calculated. Results. 120 joints of 15 RA patients were evaluated. Comparing junior's and beginner's results each to the senior's findings, the overall κ for all examined joints was 0.83 (93%) for junior and 0.43 (76%) for beginner. Regarding the different joints, junior's findings correlate very well with the senior's findings (finger joints: κ = 0.82; shoulder: κ = 0.9; knee: κ = 0.74; tibiotalar joint: κ = 0.84; talonavicular joint: κ = 0.84) while beginner's findings just showed fair to moderate agreements (finger joints: κ = 0.4; shoulder: κ = 0.42; knee: κ = 0.4; tibiotalar joint: κ = 0.59; talonavicular joint: κ = 0.35). In total, beginner's results clearly improved from κ = 0.34 (agreement of 67%) at baseline to κ = 0.78 (agreement of 89%) at the end of the evaluation period. Conclusions. Ultrasonographic evaluation of a ten-month-experienced investigator in comparison to a senior ultrasonographer was of substantial agreement. Agreements between a beginner and a highly experienced ultrasonographer were only fair at the beginning, but during the study including ultrasonographical sessions of 15 RA patients, the beginner clearly improved in musculoskeletal ultrasonography.
PMCID: PMC3004406  PMID: 21197088
6.  Immediate determination of ACPA and rheumatoid factor - a novel point of care test for detection of anti-MCV antibodies and rheumatoid factor using a lateral-flow immunoassay 
Arthritis Research & Therapy  2010;12(3):R120.
Autoantibodies against mutated and citrullinated vimentin (MCV) represent a novel diagnostic marker for rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Recently, an increased sensitivity for anti-MCV compared to autoantibodies against cyclic citrullinated peptides (anti-CCP2) was shown in cohorts of patients with early RA and established disease.
The aim of this study was to develop and evaluate a point of care test (POCT) for detection of anti-MCV antibodies immediately at the first visit or at the bed side.
A lateral-flow immunoassay was developed for simultaneous detection of anti-MCV antibodies and rheumatoid factor (RF-IgG) and evaluated in a prospective setting. Analyses were performed from whole blood samples of patients with seropositive RA (n = 108), seronegative RA as well as other rheumatic disorders (n = 122), and healthy blood donors (n = 200) and compared to detection via ELISA.
Using the POCT, anti-MCV antibodies were detected in 54.6% and RF-IgG in 56.5% of patients with RA. Specificity was 99.1% for anti-MCV antibodies and 91.2% for RF-IgG. Compared to ELISA's results, POCT sensitivity was 69.3% for anti-MCV and 55.6% for RF-IgG, specificity was 99.7% and 97.2%, respectively.
This POCT for detection of anti-MCV antibodies and RF-IgG provides high specificity for the diagnosis of RA and is useful in clinical practice due to its simplicity and its reliable performance. This test can greatly improve a timely management of RA and may help in screening patients with suspected RA in non-specialized settings prompting early referrals.
PMCID: PMC2911914  PMID: 20569500
7.  Diagnostic quality and scoring of synovitis, tenosynovitis and erosions in low‐field MRI of patients with rheumatoid arthritis: a comparison with conventional MRI 
Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases  2006;66(4):522-529.
To compare dedicated low‐field MRI (lfMRI) with conventional MRI (cMRI) in the detection and scoring of synovitis, tenosynovitis and erosions in patients with rheumatoid arthritis.
Patients and methods
The wrist and finger joints of 17 patients with rheumatoid arthritis (median (range) disease duration 8 years (7–12); Disease Activity Score 3.3 (2.6–4.5)) were examined by 0.2 T lfMRI and 1.5 TcMRI. The protocols comprised coronal spin‐echo and three‐dimensional gradient‐echo sequences before and after contrast medium administration. Synovitis of the metacarpophalangeal and proximal interphalangeal joints 2–5 and the wrist joints was scored according to Outcome Measures in Rheumatology recommendations. Tenosynovitis and erosions were scored using 4‐point and 6‐point scales, respectively. The results were analysed by calculating κ values and performing McNemar's test intra‐individually on a joint‐by‐joint basis.
Agreement between the two MRI techniques was good to excellent for synovitis and erosions, and moderate for tenosynovitis. Of the 306 joints evaluated, 245 and 200 joints showed synovitis in lfMRI and cMRI, respectively. Scoring of synovitis of the finger joints yielded κ values from 0.69 to 0.94. Of the 68 flexor tendons evaluated, tenosynovitis was diagnosed by lfMRI in 24 and by cMRI in 33 instances. Of the 391 bones evaluated, 154 and 139 showed erosions in lfMRI and cMRI, respectively. κ values for erosion scores were between 0.65 and 1.
Dedicated, lfMRI shows high agreement with cMRI in diagnosing and scoring synovitis, tenosynovitis and erosions in rheumatoid arthritis when using standardised scoring systems.
PMCID: PMC1856043  PMID: 17068069
8.  Antibodies against PM/Scl-75 and PM/Scl-100 are independent markers for different subsets of systemic sclerosis patients 
Anti-PM/Scl antibodies are present in sera from patients with polymyositis (PM), systemic sclerosis (SSc), and PM/SSc overlap syndromes. The prevalence of antibodies against the 75- and 100-kDa PM/Scl proteins and their clinical associations have not been studied in SSc patients in detail so far but could provide a valuable tool for risk assessment in these patients. Furthermore, it remains speculative whether commercially available test systems detecting only anti-PM/Scl-100 antibodies are sufficient in SSc patients.
Two hundred eighty sera from SSc patients, patients with other connective tissue diseases (n = 209), and healthy blood donors (n = 50) were analyzed for the presence of anti-PM/Scl-75 and anti-PM/Scl-100 antibodies by means of line immunoblot assay. For the SSc patients, possible associations between both subsets of anti-PM/Scl antibodies with clinical and laboratory findings were studied.
The determination of anti-PM/Scl reactivity revealed a diagnostic sensitivity of 12.5% and a specificity of 96.9% for SSc. Among anti-PM/Scl-positive SSc patients, 10.4% and 7.1% were positive for anti-PM/Scl-75 and anti-PM/Scl-100 antibodies, respectively. The highest prevalences of reactivity to PM/Scl were detected in diffuse SSc (19.8%) and overlap syndromes (17.6%). Patients with diffuse SSc showed mainly an anti-PM/Scl-75 response, whereas most cases of overlap syndromes were characterized by reactivity to both PM/Scl antigens. The presence of anti-PM/Scl-75/100 antibodies was associated with muscular and lung involvements as well as with digital ulcers; pulmonary arterial hypertension was found less frequently. Anti-PM/Scl-75 antibodies were detected more frequently in younger and more active patients with joint contractures. Anti-PM/Scl-100 antibodies were associated with creatine kinase elevation; however, gastrointestinal involvements were observed less frequently.
Anti-PM/Scl antibodies are common in distinct SSc subsets and are associated with several clinical symptoms. They are directed mainly to the PM/Scl-75 antigen. Consequently, the detection of anti-PM/Scl antibodies by tests based only on PM/Scl-100 as an antigen source may miss a relevant number of SSc patients positive for these antibodies.
PMCID: PMC2688254  PMID: 19220911
9.  Inflammation assessment in patients with arthritis using a novel in vivo fluorescence optical imaging technology 
Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases  2011;71(4):504-510.
Indocyanine green (ICG)-enhanced fluorescence optical imaging (FOI) is an established technology for imaging of inflammation in animal models. In experimental models of arthritis, FOI findings corresponded to histologically proven synovitis. This is the first comparative study of FOI with other imaging modalities in humans with arthritis.
252 FOI examinations (Xiralite system, mivenion GmbH, Berlin, Germany; ICG bolus of 0.1 mg/kg/body weight, sequence of 360 images, one image per second) were compared with clinical examination (CE), ultrasonography (US) and MRI of patients with arthritis of the hands.
In an FOI sequence, three phases could be distinguished (P1–P3). With MRI as reference, FOI had a sensitivity of 76% and a specificity of 54%, while the specificity of phase 1 was 94%. FOI had agreement rates up to 88% versus CE, 64% versus greyscale US, 88% versus power Doppler US and 83% versus MRI, depending on the compared phase and parameter. FOI showed a higher rate of positive results compared to CE, US and MRI. In individual patients, FOI correlated significantly (p<0.05) with disease activity (Disease Activity Score 28, r=0.41), US (r=0.40) and RAMRIS (Rheumatoid Arthritis MRI Score) (r=0.56). FOI was normal in 97.8% of joints of controls.
ICG-enhanced FOI is a new technology offering sensitive imaging detection of inflammatory changes in subjects with arthritis. FOI was more sensitive than CE and had good agreement with CE, US in power Doppler mode and MRI, while showing more positive results than these. An adequate interpretation of an FOI sequence requires a separate evaluation of all phases. For the detection of synovitis and tenosynovitis, FOI appears to be as informative as 1.5 T MRI and US.
PMCID: PMC3298665  PMID: 22388997
10.  The US7 score is sensitive to change in a large cohort of patients with rheumatoid arthritis over 12 months of therapy 
Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases  2012;72(7):1163-1169.
To determine the sensitivity to change of the US7 score among RA patients under various therapies and to analyze the effect of each therapeutic option over 1 year. To estimate predictors for development of destructive bone changes.
Musculoskeletal ultrasound (US7 score), DAS28, CRP and ESR were performed in 432 RA patients at baseline and after 3, 6 and 12 months. The cohort was divided into four sub-groups: first-line DMARDs (Group 1; 27.3%), therapy switch: DMARDs to second DMARDs (Group 2; 25.0%), first-line biologic after DMARDs therapy (Group 3; 35.4%) and therapy change from biologic to second biologic (Group 4; 12.3%).
The US7 synovitis and tenosynovitis sum scores in grey-scale (GSUS) and power Doppler ultrasound (PDUS) as well as ESR, CRP decreased significantly (p<0.05) after 12 months in group 1 to 3. Group 1+2 also illustrated a significant change of DAS28 after 1 year (p<0.001). Only in Group 4, the US7 erosion sum score decreased significantly from 4.3 to 3.6 (p=0.008) after 1 year. Predictors capable of forecasting US erosions after one year were: higher score of US7 synovitis (p<0.001), of US7 erosions in GSUS (p<0.001), as well as of DAS28 (p<0.001) at baseline.
The comparable developments of the US7 score with clinical and laboratory data illustrates its potential to reflect therapeutic response. Therefore, the novel US7 score is sensitive to change. Patients who switched from one biologic to another exhibited a significant decline in erosions after 12 months, while the erosions scores in the other groups were stable.
PMCID: PMC3686255  PMID: 22956596
Rheumatoid Arthritis; Ultrasonography; Synovitis; DAS28; TNF-alpha

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