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1.  Autophagy 
Autophagy  2013;9(8):1253-1255.
Autophagy describes the degradation of unnecessary or dysfunctional cellular components through the lysosomal machinery. Autophagy is essentially required to prevent accumulation of cellular damage and to ensure cellular homeostasis. Indeed, impaired autophagy has been implicated in a variety of different diseases. We examined the role of autophagy in inflammatory bone loss. We demonstrated that autophagy is activated by the pro-inflammatory cytokine tumor necrosis factor (TNF/TNFα) in osteoclasts of patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Autophagy induces osteoclast differentiation and stimulates osteoclast-mediated bone resorption in vitro and in vivo, thereby highlighting autophagy as a novel mediator of TNF-induced bone resorption.
PMCID: PMC3748199  PMID: 23811580
TNFα; arthritis; autophagy; bone resorption; osteoclasts
2.  β-catenin is a central mediator of pro-fibrotic Wnt signaling in systemic sclerosis 
Annals of the rheumatic diseases  2012;71(5):761-767.
Pathologic fibroblast activation drives fibrosis of the skin and internal organs in patients with systemic sclerosis (SSc). β-catenin is an integral part of adherens junctions and a central component of canonical Wnt signaling. Here, the authors addressed the role of β-catenin in fibroblasts for the development of SSc dermal fibrosis.
Nuclear accumulation of β-catenin in fibroblasts was assessed by triple staining for β-catenin, prolyl-4-hydroxylase-β and 4′,6-diamidino-2-phenylindole (DAPI). The expression of Wnt proteins in the skin was analysed by real-time PCR and immunohistochemistry. Mice with fibroblast-specific stabilisation or fibroblast-specific depletion were used to evaluate the role of β-catenin in fibrosis.
The auhors found significantly increased nuclear levels of β-catenin in fibroblasts in SSc skin compared to fibroblasts in the skin of healthy individuals. The accumulation of β-catenin resulted from increased expression of Wnt-1 and Wnt-10b in SSc. The authors further showed that the nuclear accumulation of β-catenin has direct implications for the development of fibrosis: Mice with fibroblast-specific stabilisation of β-catenin rapidly developed fibrosis within 2 weeks with dermal thickening, accumulation of collagen and differentiation of resting fibroblasts into myofibroblasts. By contrast, fibroblast-specific deletion of β-catenin significantly reduced bleomycin-induced dermal fibrosis.
The present study findings identify β-catenin as a key player of fibroblast activation and tissue fibrosis in SSc. Although further translational studies are necessary to test the efficacy and tolerability of β-catenin/Wnt inhibition in SSc, the present findings may have clinical implications, because selective inhibitors of β-catenin/Wnt signaling have recently entered clinical trials.
PMCID: PMC3951949  PMID: 22328737
3.  Platelet-derived serotonin links vascular disease and tissue fibrosis 
Blocking 5-HT2B receptor provides a therapeutic target for fibrotic diseases caused by activated platelet release of serotonin during vascular damage.
Vascular damage and platelet activation are associated with tissue remodeling in diseases such as systemic sclerosis, but the molecular mechanisms underlying this association have not been identified. In this study, we show that serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine [5-HT]) stored in platelets strongly induces extracellular matrix synthesis in interstitial fibroblasts via activation of 5-HT2B receptors (5-HT2B) in a transforming growth factor β (TGF-β)–dependent manner. Dermal fibrosis was reduced in 5-HT2B−/− mice using both inducible and genetic models of fibrosis. Pharmacologic inactivation of 5-HT2B also effectively prevented the onset of experimental fibrosis and ameliorated established fibrosis. Moreover, inhibition of platelet activation prevented fibrosis in different models of skin fibrosis. Consistently, mice deficient for TPH1, the rate-limiting enzyme for 5-HT production outside the central nervous system, showed reduced experimental skin fibrosis. These findings suggest that 5-HT/5-HT2B signaling links vascular damage and platelet activation to tissue remodeling and identify 5-HT2B as a novel therapeutic target to treat fibrotic diseases.
PMCID: PMC3092343  PMID: 21518801
5.  New insight on the Xq28 association with systemic sclerosis 
Annals of the rheumatic diseases  2013;72(12):10.1136/annrheumdis-2012-202742.
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).
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.
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).
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.
PMCID: PMC3818491  PMID: 23444193
6.  Implication of IL-2/IL-21 region in systemic sclerosis genetic susceptibility 
Annals of the rheumatic diseases  2012;72(7):10.1136/annrheumdis-2012-202357.
The interleukin 2 (IL-2) and interleukin 21 (IL-21) locus at chromosome 4q27 has been associated with several autoimmune diseases, and both genes are related to immune system functions. The aim of this study was to evaluate the role of the IL-2/IL-21 locus in systemic sclerosis (SSc).
Patients and methods
The case control study included 4493 SSc Caucasian patients and 5856 healthy controls from eight Caucasian populations (Spain, Germany, The Netherlands, USA, Italy, Sweden, UK and Norway). Four single nucleotide polymorphisms (rs2069762, rs6822844, rs6835457 and rs907715) were genotyped using TaqMan allelic discrimination assays.
We observed evidence of association of the rs6822844 and rs907715 variants with global SSc (pc=6.6E-4 and pc=7.2E-3, respectively). Similar statistically significant associations were observed for the limited cutaneous form of the disease. The conditional regression analysis suggested that the most likely genetic variation responsible for the association was the rs6822844 polymorphism. Consistently, the rs2069762A-rs6822844T-rs6835457G-rs907715T allelic combination showed evidence of association with SSc and limited cutaneous SSc subtype (pc=1.7E-03 and pc=8E-4, respectively).
These results suggested that the IL-2/IL-21 locus influences the genetic susceptibility to SSc. Moreover, this study provided further support for the IL-2/IL-21 locus as a common genetic factor in autoimmune diseases.
PMCID: PMC3887514  PMID: 23172754
7.  A genome-wide association study follow-up suggests a possible role for PPARG in systemic sclerosis susceptibility 
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.
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.
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.
Our results suggest a role of PPARG gene in the development of SSc.
PMCID: PMC3978735  PMID: 24401602
8.  The extracellular release of DNA and HMGB1 from Jurkat T cells during in vitro necrotic cell death 
Innate immunity  2012;18(5):727-737.
In innate immunity, dead and dying cells release internal constituents that can serve as DAMPs (damage-associated molecular patterns) or alarmins. This release occurs more abundantly during necrosis than apoptosis and may account for the differences in the immunological properties of these death forms. To elucidate DAMP release in necrosis, we have compared the levels of two nuclear molecules (DNA and HMGB1, a non-histone protein with alarmin activity) in the media following necrosis of Jurkat T cells by freeze-thawing, ethanol, heat or hydrogen peroxide. In our experiments, DNA release was measured by fluorimetry with the dye PicoGreen, while HMGB1 was measured by Western blotting. As results of this study show, each form of necrosis is associated with a distinct pattern of DNA and HMGB1 release with respect to kinetics and amounts. Of these, freeze-thawing produced the highest and most rapid increase in HMGB1 and DNA levels although the released DNA was subject to nuclease digestion; in addition, freeze-thawing led to the production of particles measured by flow cytometry. Together, these results indicate that experimental necrosis leads to diverse patterns of nuclear molecule release which could affect their immunological activity.
PMCID: PMC3724467  PMID: 22344226
alarmin; DNA; HMGB1; immune activation; necrosis
9.  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.
PMCID: PMC3368627  PMID: 22407130
10.  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.
PMCID: PMC3298110  PMID: 22076442
11.  The Systemic Lupus Erythematosus IRF5 Risk Haplotype Is Associated with Systemic Sclerosis 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(1):e54419.
Systemic sclerosis (SSc) is a fibrotic autoimmune disease in which the genetic component plays an important role. One of the strongest SSc association signals outside the human leukocyte antigen (HLA) region corresponds to interferon (IFN) regulatory factor 5 (IRF5), a major regulator of the type I IFN pathway. In this study we aimed to evaluate whether three different haplotypic blocks within this locus, which have been shown to alter the protein function influencing systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) susceptibility, are involved in SSc susceptibility and clinical phenotypes. For that purpose, we genotyped one representative single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) of each block (rs10488631, rs2004640, and rs4728142) in a total of 3,361 SSc patients and 4,012 unaffected controls of Caucasian origin from Spain, Germany, The Netherlands, Italy and United Kingdom. A meta-analysis of the allele frequencies was performed to analyse the overall effect of these IRF5 genetic variants on SSc. Allelic combination and dependency tests were also carried out. The three SNPs showed strong associations with the global disease (rs4728142: P  = 1.34×10−8, OR  = 1.22, CI 95%  = 1.14–1.30; rs2004640: P  = 4.60×10−7, OR  = 0.84, CI 95%  = 0.78–0.90; rs10488631: P  = 7.53×10−20, OR  = 1.63, CI 95%  = 1.47–1.81). However, the association of rs2004640 with SSc was not independent of rs4728142 (conditioned P  = 0.598). The haplotype containing the risk alleles (rs4728142*A-rs2004640*T-rs10488631*C: P  = 9.04×10−22, OR  = 1.75, CI 95%  = 1.56–1.97) better explained the observed association (likelihood P-value  = 1.48×10−4), suggesting an additive effect of the three haplotypic blocks. No statistical significance was observed in the comparisons amongst SSc patients with and without the main clinical characteristics. Our data clearly indicate that the SLE risk haplotype also influences SSc predisposition, and that this association is not sub-phenotype-specific.
PMCID: PMC3553151  PMID: 23372721
12.  Activation of canonical Wnt signalling is required for TGF-β-mediated fibrosis 
Nature Communications  2012;3:735-.
The transforming growth factor-β (TGF-β) signalling pathway is a key mediator of fibroblast activation that drives the aberrant synthesis of extracellular matrix in fibrotic diseases. Here we demonstrate a novel link between transforming growth factor-β and the canonical Wnt pathway. TGF-β stimulates canonical Wnt signalling in a p38-dependent manner by decreasing the expression of the Wnt antagonist Dickkopf-1. Tissue samples from human fibrotic diseases show enhanced expression of Wnt proteins and decreased expression of Dickkopf-1. Activation of the canonical Wnt pathway stimulates fibroblasts in vitro and induces fibrosis in vivo. Transgenic overexpression of Dickkopf-1 ameliorates skin fibrosis induced by constitutively active TGF-β receptor type I signalling and also prevents fibrosis in other TGF-β-dependent animal models. These findings demonstrate that canonical Wnt signalling is necessary for TGF-β-mediated fibrosis and highlight a key role for the interaction of both pathways in the pathogenesis of fibrotic diseases.
Aberrant activation of the TGF-β pathway leads to fibrotic disease. Distler and colleagues show that TGF-β-mediated fibrosis requires the decrease of Dickkopf-1, an antagonist of canonical Wnt signalling, suggesting that the two pathways interact for the manifestation of this disease.
PMCID: PMC3316881  PMID: 22415826

Results 1-12 (12)