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1.  Cardiac arrhythmias and conduction defects in systemic sclerosis 
Rheumatology (Oxford, England)  2013;53(7):1172-1177.
Signs and symptoms of arrhythmias or conduction defects are frequently reported in patients with SSc. These rhythm disorders may have several origins (i.e. related to primary heart involvement, pericardial disease, valvular regurgitation or pulmonary arterial hypertension) and may negatively affect the overall prognosis of these patients. It is therefore important to identify patients at high risk for cardiac arrhythmias with a complete cardiological evaluation and to identify the underlying heart disease, including SSc-related myocardial involvement. In addition, some therapeutic options in SSc patients may differ from those recommended in other populations.
PMCID: PMC4065005  PMID: 24241036
systemic sclerosis; arrhythmias; conduction defects; cardiac involvement; mortality
2.  Systemic Sclerosis Classification Criteria: Developing methods for multi-criteria decision analysis with 1000Minds 
Journal of clinical epidemiology  2014;67(6):706-714.
Classification criteria for systemic sclerosis (SSc) are being developed. The objectives were to: develop an instrument for collating case-data and evaluate its sensibility; use forced-choice methods to reduce and weight criteria; and explore agreement between experts on the probability that cases were classified as SSc.
Study Design and Setting
A standardized instrument was tested for sensibility. The instrument was applied to 20 cases covering a range of probabilities that each had SSc. Experts rank-ordered cases from highest to lowest probability; reduced and weighted the criteria using forced-choice methods; and re-ranked the cases. Consistency in rankings was evaluated using intraclass correlation coefficients (ICC).
Experts endorsed clarity (83%), comprehensibility (100%), face and content validity (100%). Criteria were weighted (points): finger skin thickening (14–22), finger-tip lesions (9–21), friction rubs (21), finger flexion contractures (16), pulmonary fibrosis (14), SSc-related antibodies (15), Raynaud’s phenomenon (13), calcinosis (12), pulmonary hypertension (11), renal crisis (11), telangiectasia (10), abnormal nailfold capillaries (10), esophageal dilation (7) and puffy fingers (5). The ICC across experts was 0.73 (95%CI 0.58,0.86) and improved to 0.80 (95%CI 0.68,0.90).
Using a sensible instrument and forced-choice methods, the number of criteria were reduced by 39% (23 to 14) and weighted. Our methods reflect the rigors of measurement science, and serves as a template for developing classification criteria.
PMCID: PMC4134523  PMID: 24721558
Scleroderma; Systemic Sclerosis; Decision Analysis; Forced-Choice; Classification Criteria; Conjoint Analysis; Sensibility
3.  Value of systolic pulmonary arterial pressure as a prognostic factor of death in the systemic sclerosis EUSTAR population 
Rheumatology (Oxford, England)  2015;54(7):1262-1269.
Objective. The aim of this study was to assess the prognostic value of systolic pulmonary artery pressure (sPAP) estimated by echocardiography in the multinational European League Against Rheumatism Scleroderma Trial and Research (EUSTAR) cohort.
Methods. Data for patients with echocardiography documented between 1 January 2005 and 31 December 2011 were extracted from the EUSTAR database. Stepwise forward multivariable statistical Cox pulmonary hypertension analysis was used to examine the independent effect on survival of selected variables.
Results. Based on our selection criteria, 1476 patients were included in the analysis; 87% of patients were female, with a mean age of 56.3 years (s.d. 13.5) and 31% had diffuse SSc. The mean duration of follow-up was 2.0 years (s.d. 1.2, median 1.9). Taking index sPAP of <30 mmHg as reference, the hazard ratio (HR) for death was 1.67 (95% CI 0.92, 2.96) if the index sPAP was between 30 and 36 mmHg, 2.37 (95% CI 1.14, 4.93) for sPAP between 36 and 40 mmHg, 3.72 (95% CI 1.61, 8.60) for sPAP between 40 and 50 mmHg and 9.75 (95% CI 4.98, 19.09) if sPAP was >50 mmHg. In a multivariable Cox model, sPAP and the diffusing capacity for carbon monoxide (DLCO) were independently associated with the risk of death [HR 1.833 (95% CI 1.035, 3.247) and HR 0.973 (95% CI 0.955, 0.991), respectively]. sPAP was an independent risk factor for death with a HR of 3.02 (95% CI 1.91, 4.78) for sPAP ≥36 mmHg.
Conclusion. An estimated sPAP >36 mmHg at baseline echocardiography was significantly and independently associated with reduced survival, regardless of the presence of pulmonary hypertension based on right heart catheterization.
PMCID: PMC4473765  PMID: 25596413
systemic sclerosis; tricuspid regurgitant jet velocity; systolic pulmonary arterial pressure; pulmonary hypertension; survival
4.  Borderline pulmonary arterial pressure in systemic sclerosis patients: a post-hoc analysis of the DETECT study 
Patients with mean pulmonary artery pressures (mPAP) of 21 to 24 mm Hg have a so-called borderline elevation of mPAP (BoPAP)—a condition thought to represent early-stage pulmonary arterial vasculopathy. Based on the DETECT study, this post-hoc analysis examined patient characteristics of systemic sclerosis (SSc) patients with normal mPAP, BoPAP and elevated mPAP, fulfilling pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH) criteria.
Adult patients with a duration of SSc more than 3 years, a diffusing capacity of the lung for carbon monoxide less than 60% predicted, and no previous diagnosis of any form of pulmonary hypertension (PH) underwent screening tests followed by right heart catheterization. Subjects were divided into three groups: normal mPAP, BoPAP, and PAH. Exploratory comparative and binary logistic regression analyses were performed for the BoPAP versus normal mPAP and PAH versus BoPAP groups.
Of 244 patients evaluated, 148 (60%) had normal mPAP, 36 (15%) had BoPAP, and 60 (25%) had definite PAH. Univariable logistic regression (ULR) showed the mean tricuspid regurgitation velocity in patients with BoPAP to be intermediate between normal mPAP and PAH. In the ULR analyses BoPAP versus normal mPAP and PAH versus BoPAP, the statistically significant predictors were, amongst others: demographic, clinical, pulmonary function, echocardiographic and hemodynamic variables.
In this exploratory post-hoc analysis of the DETECT study population patients with BoPAP could be distinguished from patients with normal mPAP and PAH, and it appears that BoPAP may be an intermediate stage on the continuum between normal PA pressures and PAH.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s13075-014-0493-1) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4299685  PMID: 25491468
5.  Recommendations for Screening and Detection of Connective-Tissue Disease Associated Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension 
Arthritis and rheumatism  2013;65(12):10.1002/art.38172.
Pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH) affects up to 15% of patients with connective tissue diseases (CTD). Previous recommendations developed as part of larger efforts in PAH did not provide detailed recommendations for patients with CTD-PAH. Therefore, we sought to develop recommendations for screening and early detection of CTD-PAH.
We performed a systematic review for the screening and diagnosis of PAH in CTD by searching the literature. Using the RAND/UCLA methodology, we developed case scenarios followed by 2 stages of voting—first international experts from a variety of specialties voted anonymously on the appropriateness of each case scenario and then the experts met in a face-to-face meeting to discuss and resolve discrepant votes to arrive at consensus recommendations.
The key recommendations state that patients with systemic sclerosis (SSc) should be screened for PAH. In addition, mixed connective tissue diseases (MCTD) or other CTD’s with scleroderma features should also be screened for PAH (scleroderma-spectrum disorder). Initial screening evaluation in patients with SSc and scleroderma-spectrum disorders include pulmonary function test (PFT) including diffusion capacity carbon monoxide (DLCO), transthoracic echocardiogram (TTE), and NT- Pro BNP. In SSc and spectrum disorders, TTE and PFT should be performed on annual basis. The full screening panel (TTE, PFT, and NT-ProBNP) should be performed as soon as any new signs or symptoms are present.
We provide consensus-based, evidence-driven recommendations for screening and early detection of CTD-PAH. It is our hope that these recommendations will lead to earlier detection of CTD-PAH and ultimately improve patient outcomes.
PMCID: PMC3883571  PMID: 24022584
Pulmonary hypertension; pulmonary arterial hypertension; connective tissue diseases; systemic sclerosis; recommendations; guidelines
6.  Classification Criteria for Systemic Sclerosis: An ACR-EULAR Collaborative Initiative 
Arthritis and rheumatism  2013;65(11):2737-2747.
The 1980 classification criteria for systemic sclerosis (SSc) lack sensitivity in early SSc and limited cutaneous SSc. A joint ACR-EULAR committee was established to develop new classification criteria for SSc.
Using consensus methods, 23 candidate items were arranged in a multi-criteria additive point system with a threshold to classify cases as SSc. The classification system was reduced by clustering items, and simplifying weights. The system was tested by: a) determining specificity and sensitivity in SSc cases and controls with scleroderma-like disorders; b) validating against the combined view of a group of experts on a set of cases with or without SSc.
Skin thickening of the fingers extending proximal to the MCPs is sufficient to be classified as SSc, if that is not present, seven additive items apply with varying weights for each: skin thickening of the fingers, finger tip lesions, telangiectasia, abnormal nailfold capillaries, interstitial lung disease or pulmonary arterial hypertension, Raynaud's phenomenon, and SSc-related autoantibodies. Sensitivity and specificity in the validation sample were 0.91 and 0.92 for the new classification criteria and 0.75 and 0.72 for the 1980 ARA classification criteria. All selected cases were classified in accordance with consensus-based expert opinion. All cases classified as SSc by the 1980 ARA criteria were classified with the new criteria, and several additional cases were now considered to be SSc.
The ACR-EULAR classification criteria for SSc performed better than the 1980 ARA Criteria for SSc and should allow for more patients to be classified correctly as SSc.
PMCID: PMC3930146  PMID: 24122180
Systemic Sclerosis; Scleroderma; Classification Criteria; Conjoint Analysis; Multi Criteria Additive Point System; Validation; ACR-EULAR
7.  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
8.  Items for developing revised classification criteria in systemic sclerosis: results of a consensus exercise with the ACR/EULAR working committee for classification criteria in systemic sclerosis 
Arthritis care & research  2012;64(3):351-357.
Classification criteria for systemic sclerosis (SSc) are being updated.
To select a set of items potentially useful for the classification of SSc using consensus procedures including the Delphi and nominal group techniques (NGT).
Items were identified through two independent consensus exercises performed by the Scleroderma Clinical Trials Consortium (SCTC) and the EULAR Scleroderma Trials and Research Group (EUSTAR). The first-round items from both exercises were collated and redundancies were removed leaving 168 items. A 3-round Delphi exercise was performed using a 1–9 scale (1=completely inappropriate and 9=completely appropriate) and a consensus meeting using NGT. During the last Delphi, the items were ranked on a 1–10 scale.
Round 1: 106 experts rated the 168 items. Those with a median score <4 were removed, resulting in a list of 102 items. Round 2: The items were again rated for appropriateness and subjected to a consensus meeting using NGT by European and North American SSc experts (n=16), resulting in 23 items. Round 3: SSc experts (n=26) then individually scored each of the 23 items in a last Delphi round, using an appropriateness score (1–9) and ranking their 10 most appropriate items for classification of SSc. Presence of skin thickening, SSc-specific autoantibodies, abnormal nailfold capillary pattern and Raynaud’s phenomenon ranked highest in the final list that also included items indicating internal organ involvement.
The Delphi exercise and NGT resulted in a set of 23 items for classification of SSc which will be assessed for their discriminative properties in a prospective study.
PMCID: PMC3288452  PMID: 22052558
Delphi technique; nominal group technique; systemic sclerosis; scleroderma; classification; classification criteria
9.  Molecular targets for therapy in systemic sclerosis 
Fibrogenesis & Tissue Repair  2012;5(Suppl 1):S19.
Despite significant advances have been made in the recent years regarding organ-specific therapies, there is no approved 'disease-modifying' antifibrotic drug for systemic sclerosis (SSc) available to date. Although non-selective immunosuppressive agents are routinely used to treat patients with SSc, large well-controlled studies are lacking for almost all immunosuppressive agents and further evidence is required for long-term beneficial effects of these drugs. Considering these facts about immunosuppressive agents in SSc and also considering the high mortality of SSc, other therapeutic strategies are urgently needed. Recently an important role of the 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT: serotonin) pathway in fibrosis was reported. In this review, we discuss the role of 5-HT in fibrosis and therapeutic potential of this molecule. Besides 5-HT, there are a number of promising targets that have been extensively characterized in recent years. For many of these molecular targets, modifiers are readily available for clinical studies, and often these modifiers are used already in clinical use for other diseases. Results from these studies will show, in how far the promising preclinical results for novel antifibrotic strategies can be translated to clinical practice.
PMCID: PMC3368787  PMID: 23259845
10.  Systemic Sclerosis 2011 
PMCID: PMC3332200  PMID: 22577388
11.  Erectile dysfunction is frequent in systemic sclerosis and associated with severe disease: a study of the EULAR Scleroderma Trial and Research group 
Erectile dysfunction (ED) is common in men with systemic sclerosis (SSc) but the demographics, risk factors and treatment coverage for ED are not well known.
This study was carried out prospectively in the multinational EULAR Scleroderma Trial and Research database by amending the electronic data-entry system with the International Index of Erectile Function-5 and items related to ED risk factors and treatment. Centres participating in this EULAR Scleroderma Trial and Research substudy were asked to recruit patients consecutively.
Of the 130 men studied, only 23 (17.7%) had a normal International Index of Erectile Function-5 score. Thirty-eight per cent of all participants had severe ED (International Index of Erectile Function-5 score ≤ 7). Men with ED were significantly older than subjects without ED (54.8 years vs. 43.3 years, P < 0.001) and more frequently had simultaneous non-SSc-related risk factors such as alcohol consumption. In 82% of SSc patients, the onset of ED was after the manifestation of the first non-Raynaud's symptom (median delay 4.1 years). ED was associated with severe cutaneous, muscular or renal involvement of SSc, elevated pulmonary pressures and restrictive lung disease. ED was treated in only 27.8% of men. The most common treatment was sildenafil, whose efficacy is not established in ED of SSc patients.
Severe ED is a common and early problem in men with SSc. Physicians should address modifiable risk factors actively. More research into the pathophysiology, longitudinal development, treatment and psychosocial impact of ED is needed.
PMCID: PMC3392836  PMID: 22348608
12.  International cohort study of 73 anti-Ku-positive patients: association of p70/p80 anti-Ku antibodies with joint/bone features and differentiation of disease populations by using principal-components analysis 
An international cohort study of 73 anti-Ku-positive patients with different connective tissue diseases was conducted to differentiate the anti-Ku-positive populations of patients based on their autoantibody profile and clinical signs/symptoms and to establish possible correlations between antibodies against Ku p70 and Ku p80 with autoimmune diseases.
Sera of anti-Ku-positive patients were collected from six European centers and were all secondarily tested (in the reference center); 73 were confirmed as positive. Anti-Ku antibodies were detected with counter-immunoelectrophoresis (CIE), line immunoassay (LIA), and immunoblot analyses. All clinical and laboratory data were follow-up cumulative data, except for anti-Ku antibodies. Statistical analyses were performed by using R (V 2.12.1). The Fisher Exact test was used to evaluate the association between anti-Ku antibodies and diagnosis, gender, clinical signs, and other observed antibodies. The P values were adjusted for multiple testing. Separation of disease populations based on the presence of antibodies and clinical signs was investigated by principal-components analysis, which was performed by using thr// R's prcomp function with standard parameters.
A 16% higher prevalence of anti-Ku p70 was found over anti-Ku p80 antibodies. In 41 (57%) patients, a combination of both was detected. Five (7%) patients, who were CIE and/or LIA anti-Ku positive, were negative for both subsets, as detected with the immunoblot; 31% of the patients had undifferentiated connective tissue disease (UCTD); 29% had systemic sclerosis (SSc); 18% had systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE); 11% had rheumatoid arthritis; 7% had polymyositis; and 3% had Sjögren syndrome.
A significant positive association was found between female patients with anti-Ku p70 and joint/bone features, and a significant negative association was found between female patients with anti-Ku p80 only and joint/bone features (P = 0.05, respectively). By using the first and the third components of the principal-component analysis (PCA) with 29 parameters evaluated, we observed that the anti-Ku-positive population of UCTD patients had overlapping parameters, especially with SLE, as opposed to SSc, which could be helpful in delineating UCTD patients.
PMCID: PMC3392788  PMID: 22226402
13.  Role of MicroRNAs in Fibrosis 
Fibrosis is the leading cause of organ dysfunction in diseases such as systemic sclerosis, liver cirrhosis, cardiac fibrosis, progressive kidney disease, and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. The hallmark of fibrosis is tissue remodeling with excess deposition of extracellular matrix components, predominantly collagens. Different cell types, cytokines, growth factors, and enzymes interact in complex pathogenic networks with myofibroblasts playing a pivotal role. MicroRNAs are small non-coding RNAs acting as negative regulators of gene expression at the post-transcriptional level. MicroRNAs have been associated with many basic cellular processes as well as with a wide spectrum of diseases, most notably cancer. This review provides a comprehensive overview of microRNAs regulating profibrotic pathways and extracellular matrix synthesis. The potential of miRNA for targeted therapeutic approaches in fibrotic disorders is also discussed.
PMCID: PMC3396185  PMID: 22802911
Fibrosis; fibroblasts; microRNA (miRNA)-mediated gene regulation regulation; transforming growth factor-beta (TGF-β); connective tissue growth factor (CTGF); extracellular matrix (ECM); epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT); signaling pathways; antagomirs.
14.  Systemic sclerosis-associated pulmonary hypertension: why disease-specific composite endpoints are needed 
Pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH) is a serious complication of systemic sclerosis (SSc). In clinical trials PAH-SSc has been grouped with other forms, including idiopathic PAH. The primary endpoint for most pivotal studies was improvement in exercise capacity. However, composite clinical endpoints that better reflect long-term outcome may be more meaningful. We discuss potential endpoints and consider why the same measures may not be appropriate for both idiopathic PAH and PAH-SSc due to inherent differences in clinical outcome and management strategies of these two forms of PAH. Failure to take this into account may compromise progress in managing PAH in SSc.
PMCID: PMC3218892  PMID: 21699746
15.  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
16.  Concepts of functioning and health important to people with systemic sclerosis: a qualitative study in four European countries 
Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases  2011;70(6):1074-1079.
To describe the experiences of people with systemic sclerosis (SSc) in different European countries of functioning and health and to link these experiences to the WHO International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF) to develop a common understanding from a bio-psycho-social perspective.
A qualitative multicentre study with focus-group interviews was performed in four European countries: Austria, Romania, Sweden and Switzerland. The qualitative data analysis followed a modified form of ‘meaning condensation’ and the concepts that emerged in the analysis were linked to the ICF.
63 people with SSc participated in 13 focus groups. In total, 86 concepts were identified. 32 (37%) of these were linked to the ICF component body functions and structures, 21 (24%) to activities and participation, 26 (30%) to environmental factors, 6 (7%) to personal factors and 1 (1%) to the health condition itself. 19 concepts (22%) were identified in all four countries and included impaired hand function, household activities, paid work, drugs, climate and coldness, support from others and experiences with healthcare institutions, non-pharmacological treatment, social security and benefits.
Concepts identified in all four countries could be used for guiding clinical assessment, as well as interdisciplinary team care and rheumatological rehabilitation for patients with SSc. For a full understanding of the aspects of the disease that were most relevant to people with SSc, people with SSc from multiple countries needed to be involved.
PMCID: PMC3086051  PMID: 21540204
17.  Systemic Sclerosis-Associated Interstitial Lung Disease: Lessons from Clinical Trials, Outcome Measures, and Future Study Design 
Current rheumatology reviews  2010;6(2):138-144.
Pulmonary involvement including interstitial lung disease (ILD) is the leading cause of mortality in patients with systemic sclerosis (scleroderma; SSc). This article reviews the current evidence based medicine regarding available therapies for SSc-ILD ; discusses the lessons learned from recent SSc-ILD randomized controlled trials (RCTs); and proposes outcome measures and recommendations for design of future RCTs for SSc-ILD.
PMCID: PMC2911794  PMID: 20676227
18.  Microparticles stimulate angiogenesis by inducing ELR+ CXC-chemokines in synovial fibroblasts 
Microparticles (MPs) are small membrane-vesicles that accumulate in the synovial fluids of patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). In the arthritic joints, MPs induce a pro-inflammatory and invasive phenotype in synovial fibroblasts (SFs). The present study investigated whether activation of SFs by MPs stimulates angiogenesis in the inflamed joints of patients with RA. MPs were isolated from Jurkat cells and U937 cells by differential centrifugation. SFs were co-cultured with increasing numbers of MPs. The effects of supernatants from co-cultures on endothelial cells were studied in vitro and in vivo using MTT assays, annexin V and propidium iodide staining, trans-well migration assays and modified matrigel pouch assays. MPs strongly induced the expression of the pro-angiogenic ELR+ chemokines CXCL1, CXCL2, CXCL3, CXCL5 and CXCL6 in RASFs. Other vascular growth factors were not induced. Supernatants from co-cultures enhanced the migration of endothelial cells, which could be blocked by neutralizing antibodies against ELR+ chemokines. Consistent with the specific induction of ELR+ chemokines, proliferation and viability of endothelial cells were not affected by the supernatants. In the in vivo bio-chamber assay, supernatants from RASFs co-cultured with MPs stimulated angiogenesis with a significant increase of vessels infiltrating into the matrigel chamber. We demonstrated that MPs activate RASFs to release pro-angiogenic ELR+ chemokines. These pro-angiogenic mediators enhance migration of endothelial cells and stimulate the formation of new vessels. Our data suggest that MPs may contribute to the hypervascularization of inflamed joints in patients with rheumatoid arthritis.
PMCID: PMC3922664  PMID: 20219013
angiogenesis; microparticles; rheumatoid arthritis
19.  Vascular Disease in Systemic Sclerosis 
PMCID: PMC2964904  PMID: 21048994
21.  Hypoxia. Hypoxia in the pathogenesis of systemic sclerosis 
Autoimmunity, microangiopathy and tissue fibrosis are hallmarks of systemic sclerosis (SSc). Vascular alterations and reduced capillary density decrease blood flow and impair tissue oxygenation in SSc. Oxygen supply is further reduced by accumulation of extracellular matrix (ECM), which increases diffusion distances from blood vessels to cells. Therefore, severe hypoxia is a characteristic feature of SSc and might contribute directly to the progression of the disease. Hypoxia stimulates the production of ECM proteins by SSc fibroblasts in a transforming growth factor-β-dependent manner. The induction of ECM proteins by hypoxia is mediated via hypoxia-inducible factor-1α-dependent and -independent pathways. Hypoxia may also aggravate vascular disease in SSc by perturbing vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) receptor signalling. Hypoxia is a potent inducer of VEGF and may cause chronic VEGF over-expression in SSc. Uncontrolled over-expression of VEGF has been shown to have deleterious effects on angiogenesis because it leads to the formation of chaotic vessels with decreased blood flow. Altogether, hypoxia might play a central role in pathogenesis of SSc by augmenting vascular disease and tissue fibrosis.
PMCID: PMC2688169  PMID: 19473554
22.  Lack of inhibitory effects of the anti-fibrotic drug imatinib on endothelial cell functions in vitro and in vivo 
Systemic sclerosis (SSc) is a systemic autoimmune disease that is characterized by microangiopathy with progressive loss of capillaries and tissue fibrosis. Imatinib exerts potent anti-fibrotic effects and is currently evaluated in clinical trials. The aim of the present study was to exclude that the anti-fibrotic effects of imatinib are complicated by inhibitory effects on endothelial cell functions, which might augment vascular disease in SSc. Endothelial cells and mice were treated with pharmacologically relevant concentrations of imatinib. The expression of markers of vascular activation was assessed with real-time PCR. Proliferation was analysed with the cell counting experiments and the MTT assay. Apoptosis was quantified with caspase 3 assays, annexin V in vitro and with TUNEL staining in vivo. Migration was studied with scratch and transwell assays. Tube forming was investigated with the matrigel assay. Imatinib did not alter the expression of markers of vascular activation. Imatinib did not increase the percentage of annexin V positive cells or the activity of caspase 3. No reduction in proliferation or metabolic activity of endothelial cells was observed. Imatinib did not affect migration of endothelial cells and did not reduce the formation of capillary tubes. Consistent with the in vitro data, no difference in the number of apoptotic endothelial cells was observed in vivo in mice treated with imatinib. Imatinib does not inhibit activation, viability, proliferation, migration or tube forming of endothelial cells in vitro and in vivo. Thus, treatment with imatinib might not augment further endothelial cell damage in SSc.
PMCID: PMC4496125  PMID: 18774958
imatinib; scleroderma; sclerosis; endothelial cells; angiogenesis; vasculopathy; fibrosis; c-ab; PDGF; TGFβ
23.  Cells of the synovium in rheumatoid arthritis. Synovial fibroblasts 
For some time synovial fibroblasts have been regarded simply as innocent synovial cells, mainly responsible for synovial homeostasis. During the past decade, however, a body of evidence has accumulated illustrating that rheumatoid arthritis synovial fibroblasts (RASFs) are active drivers of joint destruction in rheumatoid arthritis. Details regarding the intracellular signalling cascades that result in long-term activation and synthesis of proinflammatory molecules and matrix-degrading enzymes by RASFs have been analyzed. Molecular, cellular and animal studies have identified various interactions with other synovial and inflammatory cells. This expanded knowledge of the distinct role played by RASFs in the pathophysiology of rheumatoid arthritis has moved these fascinating cells to the fore, and work to identify targeted therapies to inhibit their joint destructive potential is underway.
PMCID: PMC2246247  PMID: 18177509
25.  Vasculopathy and disordered angiogenesis in selected rheumatic diseases: rheumatoid arthritis and systemic sclerosis 
Arthritis Research & Therapy  2007;9(Suppl 2):S3.
Angiogenesis is important in the pathogenesis of systemic inflammatory rheumatic diseases, a family of related disorders that includes rheumatoid arthritis and systemic sclerosis. Rheumatoid arthritis is the rheumatic disease in which the role of angiogenesis has been studied most extensively. However, whereas rheumatoid arthritis is characterized by excessive angiogenesis, the situation is not as clear cut in other rheumatic diseases. For example, systemic sclerosis is characterized by reduced capillary density with insufficient angiogenic responses. Results with angiogenesis inhibitors are controversial, and there is – in parallel – a wide range of upregulated angiogenic factors such as vascular endothelial growth factor. Dysregulation of angiogenesis in systemic sclerosis is accompanied by other pathogenic processes, including fibrosis, autoimmunity and vasculopathy. Animal models with at least partial features of the vasculopathy observed in systemic sclerosis include wound healing models, graft versus host disease models and, in particular, the University of California at Davis line 200 chicken model of systemic sclerosis.
PMCID: PMC2072889  PMID: 17767741

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