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1.  Impaired Endothelium-Mesenchymal Stem Cells Cross-talk in Systemic Sclerosis: a Link Between Vascular and Fibrotic Features 
Introduction
To assess if an impaired cross-talk between endothelial cells (ECs) and perivascular/multipotent mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) might induce a perturbation of vascular repair and leading to a phenotypic switch of MSC toward myofibroblast in Systemic Sclerosis (SSc).
Methods
We investigated different angiogenic and profibrotic molecules in a tridimentional matrigel assay, performing co-cultures with endothelial cells (ECs) and bone marrow derived MSCs from patients and healthy controls (HC). After 48 hours of co-culture, cells were sorted and analyzed for mRNA and protein expression.
Results
ECs-SSc showed a decreased tube formation ability which is not improved by co-cultures with different MSCs. After sorting, we showed: i. an increased production of vascular endothelial growth factor A (VEGF-A) in SSc-MSCs when co-cultured with SSc-ECs; ii. an increased level of transforming growth factor beta (TGF-β) and platelet growth factor BB (PDGF-BB) in SSc-ECs when co-cultured with both HC- and SSc-MSCs; iii. an increase of TGF-β, PDGF-R, alpha smooth muscle actin (α-SMA) and collagen 1 (Col1) in both HC- and SSc-MSCs when co-cultured with SSc-ECs.
Conclusion
We showed that during SSc, the ECs-MSCs crosstalk resulted in an altered expression of different molecules involved in the angiogenic processes, and mainly SSc-ECs seem to modulate the phenotypic switch of perivascular MSCs toward a myofibroblast population, thus supporting the fibrotic process.
doi:10.1186/s13075-014-0442-z
PMCID: PMC4206764  PMID: 25248297
2.  Impaired Cav-1 expression in SSc mesenchymal cells upregulates VEGF signaling: a link between vascular involvement and fibrosis 
Background
Systemic sclerosis (SSc) is characterized by vascular alteration and fibrosis, the former probably leading to fibrosis via the ability of both endothelial cells and pericytes to differentiate toward myofibroblast. It is well known that vascular endothelial growth factor A (VEGF-A, hereafter referred to as VEGF) may induce a profibrotic phenotype on perivascular cells. Caveolin-1 (Cav-1) is involved in the regulation of VEGF signaling, playing a role in the transport of internalized VEGF receptor 2 (VEGFR2) toward degradation, thus decreasing VEGF signaling. In this work, we assessed the levels of Cav-1 in SSc bone marrow mesenchymal stem cells (SSc-MSCs), a pericyte surrogate, and correlate these results with VEGF signaling, focusing onpotential pathogenic pathways leading to fibrosis.
Results
We explored the VEGF signaling assessing: (1) Cav-1 expression; (2) its co-localization with VEGFR2; (3) the activity of VEGFR2, by IF, immunoprecipitation, and western blot. In SSc-MSCs, Cav-1 levels were lower when compared to healthy controls (HC)-MSCs. Furthermore, the Cav-1/VEGFR2 co-localization and the ubiquitination of VEGFR2 were impaired in SSc-MSCs, suggesting a decreased degradation of the receptor and, as a consequence, the tyrosine phosphorylation of VEGFR2 and the PI3-kinase-Akt pathways were significantly increased when compared to HC. Furthermore, an increased connective tissue growth factor (CTGF) expression was observed in SSc-MSCs. Taken together, these data suggested the upregulation of VEGF signaling in SSc-MSCs. Furthermore, after silencing Cav-1 expression in HC-MSCs, an increased CTGF expression in HC-MSCs was observed, mirroring the results obtained in SSc-MSCs, and confirming the potential role that the lack of Cav-1 may play in the persistent VEGF signaling .
Conclusions
During SSc, the lower levels of Cav-1 may contribute to the pathogenesis of fibrosis via an upregulation of the VEGF signaling in perivascular cells which are shifted to a profibrotic phenotype.
doi:10.1186/1755-1536-7-13
PMCID: PMC4166421  PMID: 25237397
Systemic sclerosis; Mesenchymal stem cells; Pericytes; Caveolin-1
3.  Low-dose oral imatinib in the treatment of systemic sclerosis interstitial lung disease unresponsive to cyclophosphamide: a phase II pilot study 
Arthritis Research & Therapy  2014;16(4):R144.
Introduction
Pulmonary involvement represents a major cause of death of systemic sclerosis (SSc) patients. Recent data suggest that tyrosine kinase inhibitors, such as imatinib, may be a therapeutic option for SSc patients. However, preliminary published clinical trials were inconclusive about imatinib efficacy and showed side effects. The purpose of this study was to verify efficacy and tolerability of low-dose imatinib on interstitial lung disease in a cohort of SSc patients unresponsive to cyclophosphamide therapy.
Methods
Thirty consecutive SSc patients with active pulmonary involvement, unresponsive to cyclophosphamide, were treated with imatinib 200 mg/day for 6 months followed by a 6-month follow-up. A “good response” was defined as an increase of forced vital capacity (FVC) by more of 15% and/or increase of diffusing capacity of carbon monoxide (DLCO) >15% and PaO2 > 90% of initial value and high-resolution computed tomography (HRCT)-scan pattern unchanged or improved.
Results
Twenty-six patients completed the study. Three patients died and one patient was lost to follow-up. Four patients (15.32%) had a good response, 7 worsened and 15 had a stabilized lung disease. Overall, 19 (73.07%) patients had an improved or stabilized lung disease. After a 6-month follow-up, 12 (54.5%) of the 22 patients showed an improved or stabilized lung disease.
Conclusions
Lung function was stabilized in a large proportion of patients unresponsive to cyclophosphamide therapy and a beneficial outcome emerged from the analysis of HRCT lung scans. There was no significant improvement of skin involvement, and the low dose was well tolerated. These data provide useful suggestions to design future randomized clinical trials for SSc therapeutics.
Trial registration
ClinicalTrials.gov NCT00573326. Registered 13 December 2007.
doi:10.1186/ar4606
PMCID: PMC4227120  PMID: 25007944
4.  Efficacy and safety of rituximab treatment in early primary Sjögren's syndrome: a prospective, multi-center, follow-up study 
Arthritis Research & Therapy  2013;15(5):R172.
Introduction
Primary Sjögren’s syndrome (pSS) is an autoimmune disorder affecting exocrine glands; however, a subgroup of pSS patients experience systemic extra-glandular involvement leading to a worsening of disease prognosis. Current therapeutic options are mainly empiric and often translated by other autoimmune diseases. In the last few years growing evidence suggests that B-cell depletion by rituximab (RTX) is effective also in pSS. Patients with early active disease appear to be those who could benefit the most from RTX. The aim of this study was to investigate the efficacy and safety of RTX in comparison to disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) in early active pSS patients.
Methods
Forty-one patients with early pSS and active disease (EULAR Sjogren’s syndrome disease activity index, ESSDAI ≥ 6) were enrolled in the study. Patients were treated with either RTX or DMARDs in two different Rheumatology centers and followed up for 120 weeks. Clinical assessment was performed by ESSDAI every 12 weeks up to week 120 and by self-reported global disease activity pain, sicca symptoms and fatigue on visual analogic scales, unstimulated saliva flow and Schirmer’s I test at week 12, 24, 48, 72, 96, and 120. Laboratory assessment was performed every 12 weeks to week 120. Two labial minor salivary gland (MSG) biopsies were obtained from all patients at the time of inclusion in the study and at week 120.
Results
Our study demonstrated that RTX treatment results in a faster and more pronounced decrease of ESSDAI and other clinical parameters compared to DMARDs treatment. No adverse events were reported in the two groups. We also observed that RTX is able to reduce glandular infiltrate, interfere with B/T compartmentalization and consequently with the formation of ectopic lymphoid structures and germinal center-like structures in pSS-MSGs.
Conclusions
To our knowledge, this is the first study performed in a large cohort of early active pSS patients for a period of 120 weeks. We showed that RTX is a safe and effective agent to be employed in pSS patients with systemic, extra-glandular involvement. Furthermore, our data on pSS-MSGs provide additional biological basis to employ RTX in this disease.
doi:10.1186/ar4359
PMCID: PMC3979092  PMID: 24286296
5.  Etanercept maintains the clinical benefit achieved by infliximab in patients with rheumatoid arthritis who discontinued infliximab because of side effects 
Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases  2006;66(2):249-252.
Objective
To evaluate the efficacy of switching to etanercept treatment in patients with rheumatoid arthritis who already responded to infliximab, but presented side effects.
Methods
Charts of 553 patients with rheumatoid arthritis were retrospectively reviewed to select patients who responded to the treatment with infliximab and switched to etanercept because of occurrence of adverse effects. Clinical data were gathered during 24 weeks of etanercept treatment and for the same period of infliximab treatment before infliximab was stopped. Disease Activity Score computed on 44 joints (DAS‐44), erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) 1st hour, Visual Analogue Scale (VAS) of pain, Health Assessment Questionnaire (HAQ), and C reactive protein (CRP) were assessed every 8 weeks.
Results
37 patients were analysed. Adverse events to infliximab were mostly infusion reactions. No statistically significant difference between infliximab, before withdrawal, and etanercept, after 24 weeks, was detected in terms of DAS‐44 (2.7 and 1.9, respectively), HAQ (0.75 and 0.75, respectively), ESR (21 and 14, respectively) and CRP (0.5 and 0.3, respectively). VAS pain decreased significantly after switching to etanercept treatment (40 and 24, respectively; p<0.05).
Conclusions
Our study shows that etanercept maintains the clinical benefit achieved by infliximab, and suggests that a second tumour necrosis factor (TNF) α inhibitor can be the favourable treatment for rheumatoid arthritis when the first TNFα blocker has been withdrawn because of adverse events.
doi:10.1136/ard.2006.058776
PMCID: PMC1798487  PMID: 16837489
6.  Angiogenic and angiostatic factors in systemic sclerosis: increased levels of vascular endothelial growth factor are a feature of the earliest disease stages and are associated with the absence of fingertip ulcers 
Arthritis Research  2002;4(6):R11.
To examine whether the lack of sufficient neoangiogenesis in systemic sclerosis (SSc) is caused by a decrease in angiogenic factors and/or an increase in angiostatic factors, the potent proangiogenic molecules vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) and basic fibroblast growth factor, and the angiostatic factor endostatin were determined in patients with SSc and in healthy controls. Forty-three patients with established SSc and nine patients with pre-SSc were included in the study. Serum levels of VEGF, basic fibroblast growth factor and endostatin were measured by ELISA. Age-matched and sex-matched healthy volunteers were used as controls. Highly significant differences were found in serum levels of VEGF between SSc patients and healthy controls, whereas no differences could be detected for endostatin and basic fibroblast growth factor. Significantly higher levels of VEGF were detected in patients with Scl-70 autoantibodies and in patients with diffuse SSc. Patients with pre-SSc and short disease duration showed significant higher levels of VEGF than healthy controls, indicating that elevated serum levels of VEGF are a feature of the earliest disease stages. Patients without fingertip ulcers were found to have higher levels of VEGF than patients with fingertip ulcers. Levels of endostatin were associated with the presence of giant capillaries in nailfold capillaroscopy, but not with any other clinical parameter. The results show that the concentration of VEGF is already increased in the serum of SSc patients at the earliest stages of the disease. VEGF appears to be protective against ischemic manifestations when concentrations of VEGF exceed a certain threshold level.
PMCID: PMC153841  PMID: 12453314
basic fibroblast growth factor; endostatin; fingertip ulcers; systemic sclerosis; vascular endothelial growth factor

Results 1-6 (6)