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1.  Thymosin β4 and β10 in Sjögren’s syndrome: saliva proteomics and minor salivary glands expression 
In the present study, we investigated whether thymosin β (Tβ) in saliva and in minor salivary glands is differentially expressed in patients with primary Sjögren’s syndrome (pSS) and patients with autoimmune diseases (systemic sclerosis [SSc], systemic lupus erythematosus [SLE], and rheumatoid arthritis [RA], with and without sicca syndrome [ss]).
Saliva specimens of nine patients with pSS, seven with ss/SSc, seven with ss/SLE, seven with ss/RA, seven with SSc, seven with SLE, and seven with RA, as well as ten healthy subjects, were analyzed using a high-performance liquid chromatograph coupled with a mass spectrometer equipped with an electrospray ionization source to investigate the presence and levels of Tβ4, Tβ4 sulfoxide, and Tβ10. Immunostaining for Tβ4 and Tβ10 was performed on minor salivary glands of patients with pSS and ss.
Tβ4 levels were statistically higher in patients with pSS with respect to the other subgroups. Tβ10 was detectable in 66.7 % of patients with pSS and in 42.8 % of those with ss/SSc, while Tβ4 sulfoxide was detectable in 44.4 % of patients with pSS and in 42.9 % of those with ss/SSc. Tβ10 and Tβ4 sulfoxide were not detectable in patients without associated ss and in healthy control subjects. Regarding thymosin immunostaining, all patients had immunoreactivity for Tβ10, and a comparable distribution pattern in the four different subgroups of patients was observed. Tβ4 immunoreactivity was present in patients with ss/SSc and those with ss/SLE, while it was completely absent in patients with pSS and those with ss/RA.
Our data show that higher salivary Tβ expression characterizes patients with pSS, while Tβ4 sulfoxide and Tβ10 salivary expression was selectively present in patients with sicca symptoms. Moreover, at the immunohistochemical level in patients with pSS, minor salivary glands showed a peculiar pattern characterized by immunostaining for Tβ10 in acinar cells in the absence of any reactivity for Tβ4. These findings, taken together, suggest a different role for Tβ4 and Tβ10 in patients with pSS who have ss and other autoimmune disease.
PMCID: PMC5053072  PMID: 27716395
Thymosin β4; Thymosin β10; Sjögren’s syndrome; Saliva; Proteomics; Immunohistochemistry; Minor salivary glands
2.  MicroRNA-155 influences B-cell function through PU.1 in rheumatoid arthritis 
Nature Communications  2016;7:12970.
MicroRNA-155 (miR-155) is an important regulator of B cells in mice. B cells have a critical role in the pathogenesis of rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Here we show that miR-155 is highly expressed in peripheral blood B cells from RA patients compared with healthy individuals, particularly in the IgD-CD27- memory B-cell population in ACPA+ RA. MiR-155 is highly expressed in RA B cells from patients with synovial tissue containing ectopic germinal centres compared with diffuse synovial tissue. MiR-155 expression is associated reciprocally with lower expression of PU.1 at B-cell level in the synovial compartment. Stimulation of healthy donor B cells with CD40L, anti-IgM, IL-21, CpG, IFN-α, IL-6 or BAFF induces miR-155 and decreases PU.1 expression. Finally, inhibition of endogenous miR-155 in B cells of RA patients restores PU.1 and reduces production of antibodies. Our data suggest that miR-155 is an important regulator of B-cell activation in RA.
MiR-155 is thought to inhibit PU.1 and thereby drive antigen-induced B-cell maturation. Here the authors show that patients with rheumatoid arthritis have high B-cell miR-155 expression and that an antagomir can rescue PU.1 expression, suggesting potential therapeutic avenues to treat rheumatoid arthritis.
PMCID: PMC5052655  PMID: 27671860
3.  Could we use a lower dose of rituximab to treat rheumatoid arthritis in clinical practice: pros and cons? 
The CERERRA database provides evidence that low-dose rituximab performs as well as the conventional dose in the real world, thus highlighting the possible pharmacoeconomic impact. In clinical trials, it has been shown that rituximab 500 mg twice, performs as well as 1 g twice, 2 weeks apart, in terms of the American College of Rheumatology (ACR)20 and ACR50, but not the ACR70. The choice should always be made after considering that the IMAGE trial has demonstrated similar radiographic progression after the first 6 months, but with less control, with low-dose rituximab in the first 6 months. A possible alternative can be hypothesized.
PMCID: PMC4890326  PMID: 27255529
Rituximab; Low dose; High dose; Synovial tissue B cell depletion; Peripheral B cell depletion
4.  When rheumatologists report that they agree with a guideline, does this mean that they practise the guideline in clinical practice? Results of the International Recommendation Implementation Study (IRIS) 
RMD Open  2016;2(1):e000221.
The European League Against Rheumatism (EULAR) recommendations for the management of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and the treat-to-target (T2T) principles have been developed in order to improve the treatment outcome of patients with RA, and have received broad attention. It is not clear, though, whether these recommendations are indeed followed up in clinical practice.
To investigate if rheumatologists that report to agree with existing guidelines indeed follow them up in clinical practice.
The International Recommendation Implementation Study (IRIS) included 132 participating rheumatologists from 14 countries. Participating rheumatologists received a questionnaire measuring their awareness/commitment with the EULAR/T2T recommendations and followed a dedicated educational programme. Subsequently, they were asked to enrol 5–10 patients with new-onset RA in the online IRIS database and monitor disease activity and treatment for a period of 1–2 years. Four recommendations (3 from the EULAR recommendations and one from the T2T recommendations) were selected on the basis of testability, and analysed with regard to compliance by participating rheumatologists.
In total, 72 of the 132 participating rheumatologists contributed 378 patients to the database. Of these participants, 70 (98%) agreed upfront with the recommendation that disease-modifying antirheumatic drug (DMARD) therapy should be started as soon as possible after diagnosis in every patient; 69 (96%) of the rheumatologists agreed with the recommendation that methotrexate (MTX) should be part of the first treatment strategy. When measuring the actual performance, it was found that the recommendation on early DMARD start was met in 253 (67%) of the recorded patients, and the recommendation on MTX in 225 (60%) of the recorded patients. Of the participants, 60 (83%) agreed that composite measures should be recorded regularly, but only in 134(54%) of the patients were composite scores actually recorded in ≥50% of patient visits.
Reporting to be compliant with EULAR recommendations and T2T principles, even after dedicated education does not mean they actually comply with it in clinical practice.
PMCID: PMC4860861  PMID: 27175294
DMARDs (synthetic); Rheumatoid Arthritis; Treatment; Disease Activity; DMARDs (biologic)
5.  Prognostic Role of Ventricular Ectopic Beats in Systemic Sclerosis: A Prospective Cohort Study Shows ECG Indexes Predicting the Worse Outcome 
PLoS ONE  2016;11(4):e0153012.
Arrhythmias are frequent in Systemic Sclerosis (SSc) and portend a bad prognosis, accounting alone for 6% of total deaths. Many of these patients die suddenly, thus prevention and intensified risk-stratification represent unmet medical needs. The major goal of this study was the definition of ECG indexes of poor prognosis.
We performed a prospective cohort study to define the role of 24h-ECG-Holter as an additional risk-stratification technique in the identification of SSc-patients at high risk of life-threatening arrhythmias and sudden cardiac death (SCD). One-hundred SSc-patients with symptoms and/or signs suggestive of cardiac involvement underwent 24h-ECG-Holter. The primary end-point was a composite of SCD or need for implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD).
Fifty-six patients (56%) had 24h-ECG-Holter abnormalities and 24(24%) presented frequent ventricular ectopic beats (VEBs). The number of VEBs correlated with high-sensitive cardiac troponin T (hs-cTnT) levels and inversely correlated with left-ventricular ejection fraction (LV-EF) on echocardiography. During a mean follow-up of 23.1±16.0 months, 5 patients died suddenly and two required ICD-implantation. The 7 patients who met the composite end-point had a higher number of VEBs, higher levels of hs-cTnT and NT-proBNP and lower LV-EF (p = 0.001 for all correlations). All these 7 patients had frequent VEBs, while LV-EF was not reduced in all and its range was wide. At ROC curve, VEBs>1190/24h showed 100% of sensitivity and 83% of specificity to predict the primary end-point (AUROC = 0.92,p<0.0001). Patients with VEBS>1190/24h had lower LV-EF and higher hs-cTnT levels and, at multivariate analysis, the presence of increased hs-cTnT and of right bundle branch block on ECG emerged as independent predictors of VEBs>1190/24h. None of demographic or disease-related characteristics emerged as predictors of poor outcome.
VEBS>1190/24h identify patients at high risk of life-threatening arrhythmic complications. Thus, 24h-ECG-Holter should be considered a useful additional risk-stratification test to select SSc-patients at high-risk of SCD, in whom an ICD-implantation could represent a potential life-saving intervention.
PMCID: PMC4839708  PMID: 27101136
6.  Patient-reported impact of spondyloarthritis on work disability and working life: the ATLANTIS survey 
The aim was to establish how patients experience the impact of spondyloarthritis (SpA) on work disability and working life.
The survey was performed in 17/20 regions in Italy (1 January to 31 March 2013). A multiple-choice questionnaire was published on the official website of the sponsor - the National Association of Rheumatic Patients (ANMAR) - and hard-copies were distributed at outpatient clinics for rheumatic patients.
Respondents (n = 770) were of both sexes (56 % men), educated (62 % at high school or more), of working age (75 % aged ≤60 years), and affected by SpA. The most common types diagnosed were ankylosing spondylitis (AS) (39 %) and psoriatic arthritis (PsA) (36 %). Respondents were working full-time (45 %), part-time (8 %) or had retired (22 %); 15 % were unemployed (for reasons linked to the disease or for other reasons, students or housewives). Patients reported disability (39 %), were receiving disability benefits (34 %), were experiencing important limitations that were hindering their professional development/career (36 %) and some had to change/leave their job or lost it because of SpA (21 %). Employed respondents (n = 383) had worked on average 32.2 h in the last 7 days. More hours of work were lost over the last 7 days due to SpA (2.39 h vs 1.67 h). The indirect costs of the disease amounted to €106/week for patients reporting well-being/good physical conditions/improvement and €216/week for those reporting permanent impairment.
Most patients were in the midst of their productive years and were experiencing considerable difficulties in carrying out their job because of the disease: half of them reported disability and one third were experiencing important limitations in their career perspective.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s13075-016-0977-2) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4818386  PMID: 27037139
Spondyloarthritis; Survey; Absenteeism; Presenteeism; WPI
7.  Do we need to apply a T2T strategy even in ACPA-negative early rheumatoid arthritis? YES 
RMD Open  2016;2(1):e000263.
PMCID: PMC4823584  PMID: 27099779
Disease Activity; Rheumatoid Arthritis; Early Rheumatoid Arthritis; Ant-CCP; Rheumatoid Factor
8.  Tapering and discontinuation of TNF-α blockers without disease relapse using ultrasonography as a tool to identify patients with rheumatoid arthritis in clinical and histological remission 
In this study, we assessed whether clinical and ultrasonography (US)-based remission could be used to select patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) eligible to taper and discontinue anti-TNF-α therapy after achievement of remission, looking at disease relapse.
Forty-two patients with RA in sustained remission who were receiving anti-TNF-α treatment (Disease Activity Score <1.6 at three visits 3 months apart) underwent US evaluation of synovial hypertrophy (SH) and power Doppler (PD) signal presence. Five SH+/PD− patients with RA underwent US-guided knee synovial tissue biopsy to assess histological features of residual synovitis (CD68, CD3 and CD20 immunostaining) after sustained clinical remission was achieved. All patients were enrolled to taper first then discontinue anti-TNF-α. They were followed every 3 months afterwards, and the relapse rate was recorded.
Selected SH+/PD− patients showed low-grade synovitis as demonstrated by the presence of CD68+ cells in the lining layer and few infiltrating CD3+ and CD20+ cells at the time sustained clinical remission was achieved. After anti-TNF-α tapering, 13 patients (30.9 %) relapsed and 29 (69.1 %) SH+/PD− patients maintained disease remission after 3 months and discontinued anti-TNF-α treatment. Among them, 26 patients (89.7 %) maintained disease remission status after 6 months of follow-up. All patients who relapsed were retreated with the previous biologic, following the last effective therapeutic regimen, again reaching a good European League Against Rheumatism response within 3 months.
US evaluation using PD signalling allows the identification of patients with RA in clinical and histological remission after tapering and discontinuing biologics.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s13075-016-0927-z) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4741059  PMID: 26842890
Rheumatoid arthritis; Synovial tissue; Ultrasonography assessment; Disease remission; Anti-TNF-α agents; Discontinuation; Disease relapse
9.  Collagen Specific T-Cell Repertoire and HLA-DR Alleles: Biomarkers of Active Refractory Rheumatoid Arthritis 
EBioMedicine  2015;2(12):2037-2045.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is characterized by chronic joint inflammation and associates with HLA-DRB1*04. The Collagen IIp261-273-specific T cell repertoire in the peripheral blood of DR4 + patients at the onset of the disease shows a restricted TCR-beta chain usage among which the most frequent is TRBV25.
To define whether this group of DR4-restricted collagen-specific shared T cell could represent markers of active-severe disease and response to therapy, 90 subjects affected by early-RA were enrolled in the study; peripheral blood mononuclear cells were cultured with or without the human collagen II peptide p261-273 and were examined by immunoscope analysis for the usage of the previously identified shared TCR-beta chains.
We report that the presence of T cells carrying rearrangement TRBV25 associated with HLA-DR haplotype and disease activity. HLA-DRB1* haplotypes 04–04, 04–01 and 04–11 were significantly associated with usage of TRBV25, higher disease activity at the onset of disease and poor response to DMARDs.
Finally, the HLA-DRB1* haplotype appeared complementary with current serologic tools to predict good and poor responders in a treat to target strategy. The data reported here offer clues to predict the course of the disease and to foresee personalized treatments in RA patients.
•In DR4 + RA patients disease activity is associated with detection of Collagen261-273-specific T cells carrying TRBV25.•HLA-DR 04/04, 04/01 and 04/11 alleles were associated with TRBV25, DAS at the onset, and poor response to DMARDs.•These findings could lead to tailor the treatment in the subgroup of patients with an active refractory disease.
In the era of costly medical care with monoclonal antibodies and new molecules, and of an increasing request of a personalized medicine, a relevant socio-economic problem in the management of Rheumatoid Arthritis patients is the possible identification of the subgroups of poor responders to treatment. Our study aimed to detect the refractory active patients using an HLA-DR test (available in most hospital centers) combined with a relatively new biomarker of active disease expressed on the cell surface of autoreactive T cells. These tests appear complementary tools to identify the best and the poor responders to a “treat to target strategy”.
PMCID: PMC4703746  PMID: 26844284
ERA, early rheumatoid arthritis; ACPA, anti-cyclic citrullinated peptide antibodies; RF, rheumatoid factor; ESR, erythrocyte sedimentation rate; CRP, C-reactive protein; TJC, tender joint count; SJC, swollen joint count; DAS, disease activity score; HAQ, Health Assessment Questionnaire; HLA, histocompatibility leucocyte antigen; GWAS, genome wide association studies; SNP, single nucleotide polymorphism; MHC, major histocompatibility complex; TCR, T cell receptor; TRBV, variable beta chain gene of TCR; TRBJ, junctional beta chain gene of TCR; Coll261-273, human collagen derived peptide; CDR3, complementarity-determining region 3; PBMC, peripheral blood mononuclear cells; RT-PCR, reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction; APCs, antigen presenting cells; HLA-DRB1; Disease activity; ACPA; TRBV 25; Clonotypes
10.  Development of EULAR recommendations for the reporting of clinical trial extension studies in rheumatology 
Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases  2014;74(6):963-969.
Our initiative aimed to produce recommendations on post-randomised controlled trial (RCT) trial extension studies (TES) reporting using European League Against Rheumatism (EULAR) standard operating procedures in order to achieve more meaningful output and standardisation of reports.
We formed a task force of 22 participants comprising RCT experts, clinical epidemiologists and patient representatives. A two-stage Delphi survey was conducted to discuss the domains of evaluation of a TES and definitions. A ‘0–10’ agreement scale assessed each domain and definition. The resulting set of recommendations was further refined and a final vote taken for task force acceptance.
Seven key domains and individual components were evaluated and led to agreed recommendations including definition of a TES (100% agreement), minimal data necessary (100% agreement), method of data analysis (agreement mean (SD) scores ranging between 7.9 (0.84) and 9.0 (2.16)) and reporting of results as well as ethical issues. Key recommendations included reporting of absolute numbers at each stage from the RCT to TES with reasons given for drop-out at each stage, and inclusion of a flowchart detailing change in numbers at each stage and focus (mean (SD) agreement 9.9 (0.36)). A final vote accepted the set of recommendations.
This EULAR task force provides recommendations for implementation in future TES to ensure a standardised approach to reporting. Use of this document should provide the rheumatology community with a more accurate and meaningful output from future TES, enabling better understanding and more confident application in clinical practice towards improving patient outcomes.
PMCID: PMC4431343  PMID: 24827533
Rheumatoid Arthritis; DMARDs (biologic); Epidemiology
11.  Computer-Aided Quantification of Interstitial Lung Disease from High Resolution Computed Tomography Images in Systemic Sclerosis: Correlation with Visual Reader-Based Score and Physiologic Tests 
BioMed Research International  2015;2015:834262.
Objective. To evaluate the performance of a computerized-aided method (CaM) for quantification of interstitial lung disease (ILD) in patients with systemic sclerosis and to determine its correlation with the conventional visual reader-based score (CoVR) and the pulmonary function tests (PFTs). Methods. Seventy-nine patients were enrolled. All patients underwent chest high resolution computed tomography (HRCT) scored by two radiologists adopting the CoVR. All HRCT images were then analysed by a CaM using a DICOM software. The relationships among the lung segmentation analysis, the readers, and the PFTs results were calculated using linear regression analysis and Pearson's correlation. Receiver operating curve analysis was performed for determination of CaM extent threshold. Results. A strong correlation between CaM and CoVR was observed (P < 0.0001). The CaM showed a significant negative correlation with forced vital capacity (FVC) (P < 0.0001) and the single breath carbon monoxide diffusing capacity of the lung (DLco) (P < 0.0001). A CaM optimal extent threshold of 20% represented the best compromise between sensitivity (75.6%) and specificity (97.4%). Conclusions. CaM quantification of SSc-ILD can be useful in the assessment of extent of lung disease and may provide reliable tool in daily clinical practice and clinical trials.
PMCID: PMC4299560  PMID: 25629053
12.  Memory B cell subsets and plasmablasts are lower in early than in long-standing Rheumatoid Arthritis 
BMC Immunology  2014;15:28.
Alterations of B cell subset distribution have been described in the peripheral blood (PB) of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients, but no data are available on differences between the onset and the established phases of the disease. The purpose of the study was to clarify whether a peculiar distribution of B cell subsets characterizes RA onset, thus leading to a more favorable clinical response to treatment, and to evaluate the possible association of a particular B cell subpopulation with response to therapy.
122 RA patients were enrolled: 25 had symptom duration less than 3 months and were defined as having “very early RA” (VERA), and 43 had symptom duration from more than 3 months up to one year (early-RA: ERA). The other 54 RA patients had long-standing RA (LSRA). At baseline and at 6-month follow-up visit peripheral blood samples were collected and analyzed by flow cytometry for the distribution of circulating B cell subsets by staining with surface markers CD45, CD19, CD38, CD27 and IgD and intracellular marker ZAP70.
VERA and ERA patients showed higher percentages and absolute counts of circulating antigen inexperienced naïve B cells (IgD + CD27-) and lower percentages and absolute numbers of double negative (IgD-CD27-) memory B cells and plasmablasts (CD38 + CD27+) compared to LSRA patients. At the multivariate analysis, a higher frequency of naïve B cells (IgD + CD27-) at baseline arose as significant predictor of CDAI remission, together with “having VERA disease” and a low disease activity at baseline.
The onset of RA is characterized by higher percentages and absolute numbers of naïve B cells and lower numbers of plasmablasts and double negative memory B cells compared to established RA. Naïve B cells could represent a promising biomarker of outcome.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s12865-014-0028-1) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4168163  PMID: 25187226
Rheumatoid arthritis; B cells; ZAP-70; Autoantibodies; IL-6; BAFF
13.  Toll-Like Receptor 4 Mediates Endothelial Cell Activation Through NF-κB but Is Not Associated with Endothelial Dysfunction in Patients with Rheumatoid Arthritis 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(6):e99053.
To investigate the effects of TLR4 antagonism on human endothelial cells activation and cytokine expression, and whether the Asp299Gly TLR4 polymorphism is associated with better endothelial function in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
Human aortic endothelial cells (HAECs) were treated with lipopolysaccharide (LPS), OxPAPC, and free fatty acids (FFA) at baseline and after incubation with the TLR4 antagonist eritoran (E5564). Cytokine expression was assessed by quantitative real-time PCR. In vivo endothelial function was assessed as brachial artery flow-mediated dilation (FMD) in RA patients with the wild type gene (aa) and with the Asp299Gly TLR4 polymorphic variant (ag).
In HAEC, TLR4 antagonism with eritoran inhibited LPS-induced mRNA expression of IL-6, IL-8, TNFα, CCL-2, VCAM and ICAM (P<0.05 for all) and inhibited Ox-PAPC-induced mRNA expression of IL-8 (P<0.05) and IL-6, albeit not to a statistically significant level (p = 0.07). In contrast, eritoran did not affect FFA-induced mRNA expression of IL-6 (P>0.05). In 30 patients with RA (15 with the ag allele) undergoing measurement of FMD, no differences in FMD and plasma levels of IL-6, IL-8, VCAM, and ICAM were found between the aa and the ag phenotype (P>0.05 for all).
TLR4 signaling in endothelial cells may be triggered by LPS and oxidized phospholipids, leading to endothelial activation and inflammation, which are inhibited by eritoran. Our in vivo investigation, however, does not support an association between the Asp299Gly TLR4 polymorphism and improved endothelium-dependent vasodilator function in patients with RA. Further study is needed to better understand the potential role of TLR4 on endothelial dysfunction in this and other patient populations.
PMCID: PMC4053330  PMID: 24918924
14.  Obesity as a Risk and Severity Factor in Rheumatic Diseases (Autoimmune Chronic Inflammatory Diseases) 
The growing body of evidence recognizing the adipose tissue (AT) as an active endocrine organ secreting bioactive mediators involved in metabolic and inflammatory disorders, together with the global epidemic of overweight and obesity, rise obesity as a hot topic of current research. The chronic state of low-grade inflammation present in the obese condition and the multiple pleiotropic effects of adipokines on the immune system has been implicated in the pathogenesis of several inflammatory conditions including rheumatic autoimmune and inflammatory diseases. We will discuss the main relevant evidences on the role of the AT on immune and inflammatory networks and the more recent evidences regarding the effects of obesity on the incidence and outcomes of the major autoimmune chronic inflammatory diseases.
PMCID: PMC4227519  PMID: 25426122
rheumatic diseases; body mass index; obesity; adipokines; inflammation; rheumatoid arthritis
15.  Porphyromonas gingivalis and the pathogenesis of rheumatoid arthritis: analysis of various compartments including the synovial tissue 
We evaluated the presence of Porphyromonas gingivalis (Pg) DNA in the synovial tissue through synovial biopsy and in other compartments of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients in comparison with patients affected by other arthritides. Possible links with clinical, immunologic and genetic features were assessed.
Peripheral blood (PB), sub-gingival dental plaque, synovial fluid (SF) and synovial tissue samples were collected from 69 patients with active knee arthritis (32 with RA and 37 with other arthritides, of which 14 had undifferentiated peripheral inflammatory arthritis - UPIA). Demographic, clinical, laboratory and immunological data were recorded. The presence of Pg DNA was evaluated through PCR. The HLA-DR haplotype was assessed for 45 patients with RA and UPIA.
No differences arose in the positivity for Pg DNA in the sub-gingival plaque, PB and SF samples between RA and the cohort of other arthritides. Full PB samples showed a higher positivity for Pg DNA than plasma samples (11.8% vs. 1.5%, P = 0.04). Patients with RA showed a higher positivity for Pg DNA in the synovial tissue compared to controls (33.3% vs. 5.9%, P <0.01). UPIA and RA patients carrying the HLA DRB1*04 allele showed a higher positivity for Pg DNA in the synovial tissue compared to patients negative for the allele (57.1% vs. 16.7%, P = 0.04). RA patients positive for Pg DNA in the sub-gingival plaque had a lower disease duration and a higher peripheral blood leucocyte and neutrophil count. The presence of Pg DNA did not influence disease activity, disease disability or positivity for autoantibodies.
The presence of Pg DNA in the synovial tissue of RA patients suggests a pathogenic role of the bacterium. The higher positivity of Pg DNA in full peripheral blood and synovial tissue samples compared to plasma and synovial fluid suggests a possible intracellular localization of Pg, in particular in patients positive for HLA-DR4.
PMCID: PMC4060366  PMID: 23777892
16.  Biomarkers of Good EULAR Response to the B Cell Depletion Therapy in All Seropositive Rheumatoid Arthritis Patients: Clues for the Pathogenesis 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(7):e40362.
To find out whether a high number of auto-antibodies can increase the probability of a “good-EULAR response” and to identify the possible biomarkers of response in seropositive rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients undergoing the B cell depletion therapy (BCDT).
Patients and Methods
One hundred and thirty-eight patients with long standing RA (LSRA), 75% non or poorly responsive to one or more TNFα blockers, all seropositive for at least one autoantibody (AAB) (RF-IgM, RF-IgA, RF-IgG, anti-MCV, ACPA-IgG, ACPA-IgA, ACPA-IgM) received one full course of BCDT. The major outcomes (moderate or good-EULAR response) were assessed after 6 months of therapy. The IL6 and BAFF levels were also determined.
At a 6-month follow-up, 33 (23.9%) of the RA patients achieved a good EULAR response. Having up to 5-AABs positivity increased the chances for treatment response. After a logistic regression analysis, however, only 4 baseline factors arose as associated with a good-EULAR response: no steroid therapy (OR = 6.25), a lymphocyte count <1875/uL (OR = 10.74), a RF-IgG level >52.1 IU/ml (OR = 8.37) and BAFF levels <1011 pg/ml (OR = 7.38). When all the AABs, except for RF-IgM and ACPA-IgG, were left in the analysis, the two final predictors were no-steroid therapy and low lymphocyte count.
The number of AABs increased the chances of being a “good-EULAR” responder. The only predictors, however, at the baseline of a good response in this seropositive cohort of RA patients were 2 simple variables – no steroids and lymphocyte count – and two laboratory assays – IgG-RF and BAFF.
PMCID: PMC3408482  PMID: 22859946
17.  PTPN22 1858C>T Polymorphism Distribution in Europe and Association with Rheumatoid Arthritis: Case-Control Study and Meta-Analysis 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(9):e24292.
The PTPN22 rs2476601 polymorphism is associated with rheumatoid arthritis (RA); nonetheless, the association is weaker or absent in some southern European populations. The aim of the study was to evaluate the association between the PTPN22 rs2476601 polymorphism and RA in Italian subjects and to compare our results with those of other European countries, carrying out a meta-analysis of European data.
A total of 396 RA cases and 477 controls, all of Italic ancestry, were genotyped for PTPN22 rs2476601 polymorphism. Patients were tested for autoantibodies positivity. The meta-analysis was performed on 23 selected studies.
The PTPN22 T1858 allele was significantly more frequent in RA patients compared to controls (5.7% vs. 3.7%, p = 0.045). No clear relationship arose with the autoantibodies tested. The 1858T allele frequency in Italian RA patients was lower than the one described in northern European populations and similar to the frequency found in Spain, Turkey, Greece, Tunisia. A clear-cut North-South gradient arose from the analysis.
The PTPN22 T1858 allele is associated with RA in the Italian population. A North-South gradient of the allele frequency seems to exist in Europe, with a lower prevalence of the mutation in the Mediterranean area.
PMCID: PMC3174938  PMID: 21949702
18.  The 2010 American College of Rheumatology/European League Against Rheumatism Classification Criteria for Rheumatoid Arthritis 
Arthritis and rheumatism  2010;62(9):2582-2591.
The American College of Rheumatology and the European League Against Rheumatism have developed new classification criteria for rheumatoid arthritis (RA). The aim of Phase 2 of the development process was to achieve expert consensus on the clinical and laboratory variables that should contribute to the final criteria set.
Twenty-four expert RA clinicians (12 from Europe and 12 from North America) participated in Phase 2. A consensus-based decision analysis approach was used to identify factors (and their relative weights) that influence the probability of “developing RA,” complemented by data from the Phase 1 study. Patient case scenarios were used to identify and reach consensus on factors important in determining the probability of RA development. Decision analytic software was used to derive the relative weights for each of the factors and their categories, using choice-based conjoint analysis.
The expert panel agreed that the new classification criteria should be applied to individuals with undifferentiated inflammatory arthritis in whom at least 1 joint is deemed by an expert assessor to be swollen, indicating definite synovitis. In this clinical setting, they identified 4 additional criteria as being important: number of joints involved and site of involvement, serologic abnormality, acute-phase response, and duration of symptoms in the involved joints. These criteria were consistent with those identified in the Phase 1 data-driven approach.
The consensus-based, decision analysis approach used in Phase 2 complemented the Phase 1 efforts. The 4 criteria and their relative weights form the basis of the final criteria set.
PMCID: PMC3077961  PMID: 20872596
19.  B-Cell Subsets in the Joint Compartments of Seropositive and Seronegative Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) and No-RA Arthritides Express Memory Markers and ZAP70 and Characterize the Aggregate Pattern Irrespectively of the Autoantibody Status 
Molecular Medicine  2011;17(9-10):901-909.
The aim of the present study was to determine whether different subsets of B cells characterize synovial fluid (SF) or synovial tissue (ST) of seropositive or seronegative rheumatoid arthritis (RA) with respect to the peripheral blood (PB). PB, SF and ST of 14 autoantibody (AB)-positive (rheumatoid factor [RF]-IgM, RF-IgA, anti–citrullinated peptide [CCP]), 13 negative RA and 13 no-RA chronic arthritides were examined for B-cell subsets (Bm1-Bm5 and IgD-CD27 classifications), zeta-associated protein kinase-70 (ZAP70) expression on B cells and cytokine levels (interleukin [IL]-1β, tumor necrosis factor [TNF]-α, IL-6, IL-8 and monocyte chemotactic protein [MCP]-1). Synovial tissues were classified as aggregate and diffuse patterns. No differences were found in B-cell percentages or in subsets in PB and SF between AB+ and AB− RA and no-RA. In both AB+ and AB− RA (and no-RA), the percentage of CD19+/ZAP70+ was higher in SF than in PB (AB+: P = 0.03; AB−: P = 0.01; no-RA: P = 0.01). Moreover, SF of both AB+ and AB− RA (and no-RA) patients was characterized by a higher percentage of IgD-CD27+ and IgD-CD27− B cells and lower percentage of IgD+CD27− (P < 0.05) B cells compared to PB. In SF, ZAP70 positivity is more represented in B cell CD27+/IgD−/CD38−. The aggregate synovitis pattern was characterized by higher percentages of Bm5 cells in SF compared with the diffuse pattern (P = 0.05). These data suggest that no difference exists between AB+ and AB− in B-cell subset compartmentalization. CD27+/IgD−/ZAP70+ memory B cells accumulate preferentially in the joints of RA, suggesting a dynamic maturation of the B cells in this compartment.
PMCID: PMC3188870  PMID: 21607290
20.  Very early rheumatoid arthritis is the major predictor of major outcomes: clinical ACR remission and radiographic non-progression 
Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases  2011;70(7):1292-1295.
To identify predictors of clinical remission as well as of no x-ray progression in a cohort of early rheumatoid arthritis (ERA) treated with a tight-control protocol.
A total of 121 consecutive patients with ERA were treated to reach European League Against Rheumatism (EULAR) and/or American College of Rheumatology (ACR) clinical remission with methotrexate (MTX) for 3 months, then with a combination with anti-tumour necrosis factor if the patient did not achieve a 44-joint Disease Activity Score (DAS44) ≤2.4. At baseline and after 12 months all the patients had hand and foot joint radiographs. Very early rheumatoid arthritis (VERA) was defined as a disease with symptoms of less than 12 weeks.
In all, 46.3% of the patients reached DAS remission and 24.8% achieved ACR remission. More than 60% of patients reached remission with MTX. Male sex and an erythrocyte sedimentation rate <35 mm/h at onset arose as significant predictors of EULAR remission, while VERA disease was the only predictor of ACR remission. At baseline, 28.1% of the patients were erosive. Multivariate analysis demonstrated that the only independent predictor of erosiveness was ‘not having VERA disease’. After 12 months, VERA was the only factor predicting a lack of new erosions.
VERA represents the best therapeutic opportunity in clinical practice to achieve a complete remission and to stop the erosive course of rheumatoid arthritis.
PMCID: PMC3103665  PMID: 21515600
21.  Updated consensus statement on the use of rituximab in patients with rheumatoid arthritis 
Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases  2011;70(6):909-920.
Since initial approval for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis (RA), rituximab has been evaluated in clinical trials involving various populations with RA. Information has also been gathered from registries. This report therefore updates the 2007 consensus document on the use of rituximab in the treatment of RA.
Preparation of this new document involved many international experts experienced in the treatment of RA. Following a meeting to agree upon the core agenda, a systematic literature review was undertaken to identify all relevant data. Data were then interrogated by a drafting committee, with subsequent review and discussion by a wider expert committee leading to the formulation of an updated consensus statement. These committees also included patients with RA.
The new statement covers wide-ranging issues including the use of rituximab in earlier RA and impact on structural progression, and aspects particularly pertinent to rituximab such as co-medication, optimal dosage regimens, repeat treatment cycles and how to manage non-response. Biological therapy following rituximab usage is also addressed, and safety concerns including appropriate screening for hepatitis, immunoglobulin levels and infection risk. This consensus statement will support clinicians and inform patients when using B-cell depletion in the management of RA, providing up-to-date information and highlighting areas for further research.
New therapeutic strategies and treatment options for RA, a chronic destructive and disabling disease, have expanded over recent years. These have been summarised in general strategic suggestions and specific management recommendations, emphasising the importance of expedient disease-modifying antirheumatic drug implementation and tight disease control. This consensus statement is in line with these fundamental principles of management.
PMCID: PMC3086093  PMID: 21378402
22.  β-thymosins and interstitial lung disease: study of a scleroderma cohort with a one-year follow-up 
Respiratory Research  2011;12(1):22.
β-thymosins play roles in cytoskeleton rearrangement, angiogenesis, fibrosis and reparative process, thus suggesting a possible involvement in the pathogenesis of systemic sclerosis. The aim of the study was to investigate the presence of thymosins β4, β4 sulfoxide, and β10 in bronchoalveolar lavage fluid of scleroderma patients with interstitial lung disease and the relation of these factors with pulmonary functional and radiological parameters.
β-thymosins concentrations were determined by Reverse Phase-High Performance Liquid Chromatography-Electrospray-Mass Spectrometry in the bronchoalveolar lavage fluid of 46 scleroderma patients with lung involvement and of 15 controls.
Thymosin β4, β4 sulfoxide, and β10 were detectable in bronchoalveolar lavage fluid of patients and controls. Thymosin β4 levels were significantly higher in scleroderma patients than in controls. In addition, analyzing the progression of scleroderma lung disease at one-year follow-up, we have found that higher thymosin β4 levels seem to have a protective role against lung tissue damage. Thymosin β4 sulfoxide levels were higher in the smokers and in the scleroderma patients with alveolitis.
We describe for the first time β-thymosins in bronchoalveolar lavage fluid and their possible involvement in the pathogenesis of scleroderma lung disease. Thymosin β4 seems to have a protective role against lung tissue damage, while its oxidation product mirrors an alveolar inflammatory status.
PMCID: PMC3045324  PMID: 21314931
23.  Interleukin-1β and Interleukin-6 in Arthritis Animal Models: Roles in the Early Phase of Transition from Acute to Chronic Inflammation and Relevance for Human Rheumatoid Arthritis 
Molecular Medicine  2010;16(11-12):552-557.
Tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α) is the major target of the therapeutic approach in rheumatoid arthritis. A key issue in the approach to chronic arthritis is the understanding of the crucial molecules driving the transition from the acute phase to the chronic irreversible phase of the disease. In this review we analyzed five experimental arthritis animal models (antigen-induced arthritis, adjuvant-induced arthritis, streptococcal cell wall arthritis, collagen-induced arthritis and SKG) considered as possible scenarios to facilitate interpretation of the biology of human rheumatoid arthritis. The SKG model is strictly dependent on interleukin (IL)-6. In the other models, IL-1β and IL-6, more than TNF-α, appear to be relevant in driving the transition, which suggests that these should be the targets of an early intervention to stop the course toward the chronic form of the disease.
PMCID: PMC2972398  PMID: 20683549
24.  Modeling the Ternary Complex TCR-Vβ/CollagenII(261–273)/HLA-DR4 Associated with Rheumatoid Arthritis 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(7):e11550.
It is known that genetic predisposition to rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is associated with the MHC class II allele HLA-DR4 and that residues 261–273 of type II collagen (huCollp261) represent an immunodominant T cell epitope restricted by the DR4 molecule. Despite recent advances in characterization of MHC and T cell receptor (TCR) contacts to this epitope, the atomic details of TCR/huCollp261/HLA-DR4 ternary complex are not known.
Methodology/Principal Findings
Here we have used computational modeling to get insight into this interaction. A three-dimensional model of the TCR Vβ domain from a DR4+ patient affected by RA has been derived by homology modeling techniques. Subsequently, the structure of the TCR Vβ domain in complex with huCollp261/HLA-DR4 was obtained from a docking approach in conjunction with a filtering procedure based on biochemical information. The best complex from the docking experiments was then refined by 20 ns of molecular dynamics simulation in explicit water. The predicted model is consistent with available experimental data. Our results indicate that residues 97–101 of CDR3β are critical for recognition of huCollp261/HLA-DR4 by TCR. We also show that TCR contacts on p/MHC surface affect the conformation of the shared epitope expressed by DR alleles associated with RA susceptibility.
This work presents a three-dimensional model for the ternary complex TCR-Vβ/collagenII(261–273)/HLA-DR4 associated with rheumatoid arthritis that can provide insights into the molecular mechanisms of self reactivity.
PMCID: PMC2904365  PMID: 20644721
25.  B cell depletion in diffuse progressive systemic sclerosis: safety, skin score modification and IL-6 modulation in an up to thirty-six months follow-up open-label trial 
An over-expression of CD19 has been shown in B cells of systemic sclerosis (SSc) and B cells are thought to contribute to the induction of skin fibrosis in the tight skin mouse model. The aim was to define the outcome on safety and the change in skin score after rituximab therapy in SSc patients and to correlate the clinical characteristics with the levels of interleukin (IL)-6 and with the immune cell infiltrate detected by immunohistochemistry.
Nine patients with SSc with mean age 40.9 ± 11.1 years were treated with anti-CD20, 1 g at time 0 and after 14 days. Skin biopsy was performed at baseline and during the follow-up. B-cell activating factor (BAFF) and IL-6 levels were also determined at the follow-up times.
After 6 months patients presented a median decrease of the skin score of 43.3% (range 21.1-64.0%), and a decrease in disease activity index and disease severity index. IL-6 levels decreased permanently during the follow up. After treatment, a complete depletion of peripheral blood B cells was observed in all but 2 patients. Only 3 patients presented CD20 positive cells in the biopsy of the involved skin at baseline.
Anti-CD20 treatment has been well tolerated and SSc patients experienced an improvement of the skin score and of clinical symptoms. The clear fall in IL-6 levels could contribute to the skin fibrosis improvement, while the presence of B cells in the skin seems to be irrelevant with respect to the outcome after B cell depletion.
Trial registration
PMCID: PMC2888203  PMID: 20338043

Results 1-25 (34)