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1.  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
2.  Left atrial dysfunction detected by speckle tracking in patients with systemic sclerosis 
Cardiac involvement is a relevant clinical finding in systemic sclerosis (SSc) and is associated with poor prognosis. Left atrial (LA) remodeling and/or dysfunction can be an early sign of diastolic dysfunction. Two-dimensional speckle tracking echocardiography (STE) is a novel and promising tool for detecting very early changes in LA myocardial performance.
To assess whether STE strain parameters may detect early alterations in LA function in SSc patients.
Forty-two SSc patients (Group 1, age 50 ± 14 years, 95% females) without clinical evidence for cardiac involvement and 42 age- and gender-matched control subjects (Group 2, age 49 ± 13 years, 95% females) were evaluated with comprehensive 2D and Doppler echocardiography, including tissue Doppler imaging analysis. Positive peak left atrial longitudinal strain (ϵ pos peak), second positive left atrial longitudinal strain (sec ϵ pos peak), and negative left atrial longitudinal strain (ϵ neg peak) were measured using a 12-segment model for the LA, by commercially available semi-automated 2D speckle-tracking software (EchoPac PC version 108.1.4, GE Healthcare, Horten, Norway).
All SSc patients had a normal left ventricular ejection fraction (63.1 ± 4%). SSc patients did not differ from controls in E/A (Group 1 = 1.1 ± 0.4 vs Group 2 = 1.3 ± 0.4, p = .14) or pulmonary arterial systolic pressure (Group 1 = 24.1 ± 8 mmHg vs Group 2 = 21 ± 7 mmHg, p = .17). SSc patients did not show significantly different indexed LA volumes (Group 1 = 24.9 ± 5.3 ml/m2 vs Group 2 = 24.7 ± 4.4 ml/m2, p = .8), whereas E/e’ ratio was significantly higher in SSc (Group 1 = 7.6 ± 2.4 vs Group 2 = 6.5 ± 1.7, p<0.05), although still within normal values. LA strain values were significantly different between the two groups (ϵ pos peak Group 1 = 31.3 ± 4.2% vs Group 2 = 35.0 ± 7.6%, p < .01, sec ϵ pos peak Group 1 = 18.4 ± 4 vs Group 2 = 21.4 ± 7.6, p < 0.05).
2D speckle-tracking echocardiography is a sensitive tool to assess impairment of LA mechanics, which is detectable in absence of changes in LA size and volume, and may represent an early sign of cardiac involvement in patients with SSc.
PMCID: PMC4134332  PMID: 25090937
3.  Circulating Autoantibodies to Endothelial Progenitor Cells: Binding Characteristics and Association with Risk Factors for Atherosclerosis 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(6):e97836.
Endothelial progenitor cells (EPC) are committed to transform into EC promoting vasculogenic ischemic repair. Anti-endothelial cells (AECA) have been described in various disorders with an associated vascular damage. Herein, we explored a novel circulating population of IgG reactive with EPC, in patients with differential risk profile for atherosclerotic vascular disease.
Approach and Results
A novel cyto-ELISA system was established where the coated cells were late outgrowth EPC. Levels of anti-EPC antibodies were determined in 100 subjects and differential risk score for atherosclerosis, as well as to circulating EPC levels and the inflammatory markers IL-6 and C-reactive protein. To study endothelial cell (EC) activating properties, sera were tested for their ability to induce VCAM-1 expression in a cell ELISA system. Detectable levels of anti-EPC antibodies, that correlated with age, Framingham risk score and CRP concentrations but did not associate with levels of LDL, HDL, hypertension or diabetes, were detected. Anti-EPC antibodies were distinct from EC binding antibodies as shown by competitive inhibition studies, and have been positively correlated with the extent of EC activation manifested by in vitro VCAM-1 expression.
This is the first study showing a newly defined subgroup of self-antibodies binding EPC and associating positively with the Framingham risk score. Further studies are required to characterize and test this interesting subset of EPC binding autoantibodies and their potential significance.
PMCID: PMC4063726  PMID: 24945945
4.  A loss of telocytes accompanies fibrosis of multiple organs in systemic sclerosis 
Systemic sclerosis (SSc) is a complex connective tissue disease characterized by fibrosis of the skin and various internal organs. In SSc, telocytes, a peculiar type of stromal (interstitial) cells, display severe ultrastructural damages and are progressively lost from the clinically affected skin. The aim of the present work was to investigate the presence and distribution of telocytes in the internal organs of SSc patients. Archival paraffin-embedded samples of gastric wall, myocardium and lung from SSc patients and controls were collected. Tissue sections were stained with Masson's trichrome to detect fibrosis. Telocytes were studied on tissue sections subjected to CD34 immunostaining. CD34/CD31 double immunofluorescence was performed to unequivocally differentiate telocytes (CD34-positive/CD31-negative) from vascular endothelial cells (CD34-positive/CD31-positive). Few telocytes entrapped in the fibrotic extracellular matrix were found in the muscularis mucosae and submucosa of SSc gastric wall. In the muscle layers and myenteric plexus, the network of telocytes was discontinuous or even completely absent around smooth muscle cells and ganglia. Telocytes were almost completely absent in fibrotic areas of SSc myocardium. In SSc fibrotic lung, few or no telocytes were observed in the thickened alveolar septa, around blood vessels and in the interstitial space surrounding terminal and respiratory bronchioles. In SSc, the loss of telocytes is not restricted to the skin, but it is a widespread process affecting multiple organs targeted by the fibrotic process. As telocytes are believed to be key players in the regulation of tissue/organ homoeostasis, our data suggest that telocyte loss might have important pathophysiological implications in SSc.
PMCID: PMC3930412  PMID: 24467430
telocytes; systemic sclerosis; scleroderma; fibrosis; gastric wall; myocardium; lung; CD34; immunohistochemistry
5.  Safety and effectiveness of adalimumab in patients with rheumatoid arthritis over 5 years of therapy in a phase 3b and subsequent postmarketing observational study 
Patients with active rheumatoid arthritis who had failed at least one disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drug (DMARD) were treated with adalimumab (ADA) in the ReAct study with the option to continue treatment for 5 years in ReAlise. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the long-term safety and effectiveness of ADA as prescribed from the first injection in ReAct to the last observation in ReAlise.
Patients received ADA alone or in combination with DMARDs according to usual clinical care practices. Adverse events (AEs) were tabulated by five time windows after the first ADA injection. Effectiveness measures included achievement of low disease activity (LDA), defined as Simplified Disease Activity Index (SDAI) ≤11, or remission, (REM), defined as SDAI ≤3.3.
Of the 6,610 ReAct patients, 3,435 (52%) continued in ReAlise. At baseline in ReAct, mean age was 54 years, mean DAS28 was 6.0 and mean HAQ DI was 1.64. The mean treatment duration was 1,016 days, representing 18,272 patient-years (PYs) of ADA exposure. Overall incidence rates of serious AEs and serious infections were 13.8 and 2.8 events (E)/100 PYs, respectively. Serious AEs occurred most frequently in the first 6 months and deceased thereafter. Standardised mortality ratio was 0.71 (95% CI 0.57 to 0.87) and standardised incidence ratio for malignancies was 0.64 (95% CI 0.53 to 0.76). LDA was achieved by 50% and REM by 21% of patients at last observation.
Results of this large observational study of ADA in routine clinical practice were consistent with controlled trials, with no new safety concerns during a follow-up of more than 5 years. Effectiveness of ADA was maintained during long-term observation.
Trial registration
NCT00448383, NCT00234884
PMCID: PMC3979145  PMID: 24460746
6.  Fibroblast growth factor 23 (FGF23) gene polymorphism in children with Kawasaki syndrome (KS) and susceptibility to cardiac abnormalities 
Fibroblast Growth Factor (FGF) 23 influences endothelial integrity and few reports have studied the association between FGF23 and Kawasaki syndrome (KS), a childhood vasculitis displaying a high risk of subsequent cardiac abnormalities (CaA).
To investigate the genetic variation in the FGF23 gene in a cohort of KS children and its association with serum FGF23 levels and eventual development of CaA, including both coronary artery dilatations and aneurysms.
Patients and methods
84 Italian KS children were recruited; 24/84 (28.6%) developed CaA. Each patient underwent evaluation of serum FGF23 levels and FGF23 genotype: the frequency of the c.212-37insC (rs3832879) polymorphism in intron 1 was examined and compared with sex, age at disease onset, fever duration, laboratory data, and occurrence of CaA. Univariate statistical analysis of categorical parameters was performed by the Pearson’s Chi-square test or Fisher’s exact test as appropriate. Parametric variables were assessed by Student’s t-test for unpaired data. Independent predictors of disease were studied by a logistic regression model.
28/84 patients carried the FGF23 polymorphism (33.3%) and had higher serum FGF23 levels (p < 0.01). FGF23 polymorphism was significantly associated with CaA compared to wild type FGF23 children (respectively, p = 0.03 and p = 0.05). The comparison with demographical, clinical or laboratory data was not significant.
The prevalent segregation of the c.212-37insC polymorphism in children with CaA advocates a possible functional FGF23 role in the predisposition to higher serum levels of FGF23 and potential occurrence of any coronary artery abnormalities in KS.
PMCID: PMC3832880  PMID: 24168888
Kawasaki syndrome; Fibroblast growth factor 23; Cardiac abnormalities; Child
7.  Decreased expression of the endothelial cell-derived factor EGFL7 in systemic sclerosis: potential contribution to impaired angiogenesis and vasculogenesis 
Arthritis Research & Therapy  2013;15(5):R165.
Microvascular damage and defective angiogenesis and vasculogenesis have a major role in the pathogenesis of systemic sclerosis (SSc). Epidermal growth factor-like domain 7 (EGFL7) is a proangiogenic molecule which is predominantly expressed and secreted by endothelial cells and their progenitors and controls vascular development and integrity. In this study, we investigated the possible involvement of EGFL7 in SSc.
Serum EGFL7 levels from 60 patients with SSc and 35 age- and sex-matched healthy controls were examined by colorimetric sandwich enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. The expression of EGFL7 in forearm skin biopsies (n = 16 SSc, n = 10 controls), cultured dermal microvascular endothelial cells (MVECs) (n = 3 SSc, n = 3 controls) and late-outgrowth peripheral blood endothelial progenitor cell (EPC)-derived endothelial cells (n = 15 SSc, n = 8 controls) was investigated by immunofluorescence and Western blotting.
Serum EGFL7 levels were detectable in 68.6% of healthy controls and 45% of SSc cases (P < 0.05). Circulating levels of EGFL7 were significantly decreased in SSc patients compared with healthy controls (P = 0.01). Serum levels of EGFL7 were significantly lower in both limited cutaneous SSc and diffuse cutaneous SSc patients than in controls (P = 0.02 and P = 0.04, respectively). In SSc, decreased serum EGFL7 levels were significantly correlated with the severity of nailfold capillary abnormalities. Patients with the most severe capillary changes and digital ulcers had serum EGFL7 levels significantly lower than healthy controls, while the EGFL7 levels did not differ significantly between controls and SSc patients with less capillary damage and lack of digital ulcers. Endothelial EGFL7 expression was strongly downregulated or even almost completely undetectable in SSc-affected dermis compared with controls (P < 0.001). In cultured SSc dermal MVECs and late-outgrowth peripheral blood EPC-derived endothelial cells, EGFL7 was significantly downregulated compared with cells obtained from healthy subjects (P < 0.01 and P < 0.001, respectively).
Our findings suggest that the loss of EGFL7 expression in endothelial cells and their progenitors might play a role in the development and progression of peripheral microvascular damage and the defective vascular repair process characteristic of SSc.
PMCID: PMC3978601  PMID: 24286167
8.  Gout impacts on function and health-related quality of life beyond associated risk factors and medical conditions: results from the KING observational study of the Italian Society for Rheumatology (SIR) 
Arthritis Research & Therapy  2013;15(5):R101.
Gout is the most prevalent arthritis and significantly impacts on function and quality of life. Given that gout associates with disabling comorbid conditions, it is not clear whether such a complex of diseases accounts for the increased disability or if gout may play a role by itself. This study aims to evaluate the specific influence of gout and disease-related features on functional disability and health-related quality of life (HRQoL) in patients with gout followed in rheumatology clinics.
A random sample of patients was drawn from clinical registries of 30 rheumatology clinics across Italy. Sociodemographic, general health and gout-specific variables were collected. Functional disability and HRQoL were assessed by the health assessment questionnaire (HAQ) and the Physical and Mental Component Summary scores (PCS and MCS) of the Short Form-36 (SF-36). Crude and adjusted ordinal logistic and linear regression models were applied to investigate the specific contribution of different variables on HAQ and SF-36 scores. Results are presented as odds ratio (OR) or mean difference (MD) and 95% confidence intervals.
Out of 446 patients with gout, 90% were males with a mean age of 63.9 years and median disease duration of 3.8 years; the majority of patients were overweight or obese, and with several comorbidities; 21.1% showed at least moderate disability; the PCS score was significantly lower than expected age- and gender-matched samples in the general population, while MCS score was not. After adjusting for potential sociodemographic and general-health confounders, gout-specific variables significantly impacted on HAQ, including polyarticular involvement OR 3.82 (1.63, 8.95), presence of tophi OR 1.92 (1.07, 3.43) and recent attacks OR 2.20 (1.27, 3.81). Consistent results were found for PCS. The impairment of PCS compared to the general population was limited to patients with features of chronic gout. MCS was only affected by recent attacks (MD -2.72 [-4.58, -0.86]) and corticosteroid treatment (-3.39 [-5.30,-1.48]).
The data from the KING study confirm that gout impacts on disability and provide evidence for an independent association of gout and gout-related features with functional outcome and HRQoL. This result supports the need to improve specific treatment in gout.
PMCID: PMC3979095  PMID: 24004577
9.  Systemic sclerosis sera affect fibrillin-1 deposition by dermal blood microvascular endothelial cells: therapeutic implications of cyclophosphamide 
Systemic sclerosis (SSc) is a connective tissue disorder characterized by endothelial cell injury, autoimmunity and fibrosis. The following three fibrillin-1 alterations have been reported in SSc. (1) Fibrillin-1 microfibrils are disorganized in SSc dermis. (2) Fibrillin-1 microfibrils produced by SSc fibroblasts are unstable. (3) Mutations in the FBN1 gene and anti-fibrillin-1 autoantibodies have been reported in SSc. Fibrillin-1 microfibrils, which are abundantly produced by blood and lymphatic microvascular endothelial cells (B-MVECs and Ly-MVECs, respectively), sequester in the extracellular matrix the latent form of the potent profibrotic cytokine transforming growth factor β (TGF-β). In the present study, we evaluated the effects of SSc sera on the deposition of fibrillin-1 and microfibril-associated glycoprotein 1 (MAGP-1) and the expression of focal adhesion molecules by dermal B-MVECs and Ly-MVECs.
Dermal B-MVECs and Ly-MVECs were challenged with sera from SSc patients who were treatment-naïve or under cyclophosphamide (CYC) treatment and with sera from healthy controls. Fibrillin-1/MAGP-1 synthesis and deposition and the expression of αvβ3 integrin/phosphorylated focal adhesion kinase and vinculin/actin were evaluated by immunofluorescence and quantified by morphometric analysis.
Fibrillin-1 and MAGP-1 colocalized in all experimental conditions, forming a honeycomb pattern in B-MVECs and a dense mesh of short segments in Ly-MVECs. In B-MVECs, fibrillin-1/MAGP-1 production and αvβ3 integrin expression significantly decreased upon challenge with sera from naïve SSc patients compared with healthy controls. Upon challenge of B-MVECs with sera from CYC-treated SSc patients, fibrillin-1/MAGP-1 and αvβ3 integrin levels were comparable to those of cells treated with healthy sera. Ly-MVECs challenged with SSc sera did not differ from those treated with healthy control sera in the expression of any of the molecules assayed.
Because of the critical role of fibrillin-1 in sequestering the latent form of TGF-β in the extracellular matrix, its decreased deposition by B-MVECs challenged with SSc sera might contribute to dermal fibrosis. In SSc, CYC treatment might limit fibrosis through the maintenance of physiologic fibrillin-1 synthesis and deposition by B-MVECs.
PMCID: PMC3978697  PMID: 23962393
Systemic sclerosis; blood and lymphatic microvascular endothelial cells; fibrillin-1; focal adhesion molecules; cyclophosphamide
10.  The MUC5B Variant Is Associated with Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis but Not with Systemic Sclerosis Interstitial Lung Disease in the European Caucasian Population 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(8):e70621.
A polymorphism on the MUC5B promoter (rs35705950) has been associated with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) but not with systemic sclerosis (SSc) with interstitial lung disease (ILD). We genotyped the MUC5B promoter in the first 142 patients of the French national prospective cohort of IPF, in 981 French patients with SSc (346 ILD), 598 Italian patients with SSc (207 ILD), 1383 French controls and 494 Italian controls. A meta-analysis was performed including all American data available. The T risk allele was present in 41.9% of the IPF patients, 10.8% of the controls (P = 2×10–44), OR 6.3 [4.6–8.7] for heterozygous patients and OR 21.7 [10.4–45.3] for homozygous patients. Prevalence of the T allele was not modified according to age, gender, smoking in IPF patients. However, none of the black patients with IPF presented the T allele. The prevalence of the T risk allele was similar between French (10%) and Italian (12%) cohorts of SSc whatever the presence of an ILD (11.1% and 13.5%, respectively). Meta-analysis confirmed the similarity between French, Italian and American cohorts of IPF or SSc-ILD. This study confirms 1) an association between the T allele risk and IPF, 2) an absence of association with SSc-ILD, suggesting different pathophysiology.
PMCID: PMC3734256  PMID: 23940607
11.  In Systemic Sclerosis, Anxiety and Depression Assessed by Hospital Anxiety Depression Scale Are Independently Associated with Disability and Psychological Factors 
BioMed Research International  2013;2013:507493.
Background. Anxious and depressive symptoms are frequent in Systemic Sclerosis (SSc). Our objective is to assess their prevalence and association with district and global disability and psychological variables. Methods. 119 SSc patients were assessed by Hospital Anxiety Depression Scale (HADS). Clinical depression and anxiety were defined for HADS score cutoff ≥8. Patients were assessed for psychological symptoms (RSES, COPE-NIV), hand (HAMIS, CHFDS, fist closure, and hand opening) and face disability (MHISS, mouth opening), global disability, and fatigue (HAQ, FACIT). Results. Both depression and anxiety in SSc are 36%. Depressive patients with comorbid anxiety have higher HADS-D score than patients with depression only (P = 0.001). HADS-A and -D are positively correlated with global disability, hands and mouth disability, fatigue, self-esteem and avoidance coping strategy, and, only HADS-A, also with social support (P < 0.05). By multiple regression, HADS-D is independently associated with FACIT-F (P < 0.001), RSES (P < 0.001), and MHISS total score (P = 0.016), together explaining 50% of variance. HADS-A is independently associated with RSES (P = 0.006), COPE-NIV SA (P = 0.003), COPE-NIV SS (P = 0.008), FACIT-F (P = 0.022), and MHISS mouth opening (P = 0.029), explaining 41% of variance. Conclusions. In SSc depression and anxiety correlate to local and global disabilities and psychological characteristics. Depressive patients with comorbid anxiety have higher level of depressive symptoms.
PMCID: PMC3745942  PMID: 23984376
12.  High serum sCD163/sTWEAK ratio is associated with lower risk of digital ulcers but more severe skin disease in patients with systemic sclerosis 
Systemic sclerosis (SSc) is an autoimmune disease characterized by chronic inflammation, vascular injury and excessive fibrosis. CD163 is a scavenger receptor which affects inflammatory response and may contribute to connective tissue remodelling. It has recently been demonstrated that CD163 can bind and neutralize the TNF-like weak inducer of apoptosis (TWEAK), a multifunctional cytokine which regulates inflammation, angiogenesis and tissue remodelling. We aimed to investigate the relationships between serum levels of soluble CD163 (sCD163) and soluble TWEAK (sTWEAK) in relation to disease manifestations in SSc patients.
This study included 89 patients with SSc who had not received immunosuppressive drugs or steroids for at least 6 months and 48 age- and sex-matched healthy controls (HC) from four European centres. Serum concentrations of sTWEAK and sCD163 were measured using commercially available ELISA kits.
The mean serum concentrations of sTWEAK were comparable between SSc patients (mean +/- SD: 270 +/- 171 pg/mL) and HC (294 +/- 147pg/mL, P >0.05). Concentration of sCD163 and sCD163/sTWEAK ratio were significantly greater in SSc patients (984 +/- 420 ng/mL and 4837 +/- 3103, respectively) as compared to HC (823 +/- 331 ng/mL and 3115 +/- 1346 respectively, P <0.05 for both). High sCD163 levels and a high sCD163/sTWEAK ratio (defined as > mean +2SD of HC) were both associated with a lower risk of digital ulcers in SSc patients (OR, 95%CI: 0.09; 0.01, 0.71, and 0.17; 0.06, 0.51, respectively). Accordingly, patients without digital ulcers had a significantly higher sCD163 concentration and sCD163/sTWEAK ratio as compared to SSc patients with digital ulcers (P <0.01 for both) and HC (P <0.05 for both). A high sCD163/sTWEAK ratio, but not high sCD163 levels, was associated with greater skin involvement.
The results of our study indicate that CD163-TWEAK interactions might play a role in the pathogenesis of SSc and that CD163 may protect against the development of digital ulcers in SSc. Further studies are required to reveal whether targeting of the CD163-TWEAK pathway might be a potential strategy for treating vascular disease and/or skin fibrosis in SSc.
PMCID: PMC4060194  PMID: 23800379
13.  Evidence for progressive reduction and loss of telocytes in the dermal cellular network of systemic sclerosis 
Telocytes, a peculiar type of stromal cells, have been recently identified in a variety of tissues and organs, including human skin. Systemic sclerosis (SSc, scleroderma) is a complex connective tissue disease characterized by fibrosis of the skin and internal organs. We presently investigated telocyte distribution and features in the skin of SSc patients compared with normal skin. By an integrated immunohistochemical and transmission electron microscopy approach, we confirmed that telocytes were present in human dermis, where they were mainly recognizable by their typical ultrastructural features and were immunophenotypically characterized by CD34 expression. Our findings also showed that dermal telocytes were immunophenotypically negative for CD31/PECAM-1 (endothelial cells), α-SMA (myofibroblasts, pericytes, vascular smooth muscle cells), CD11c (dendritic cells, macrophages), CD90/Thy-1 (fibroblasts) and c-kit/CD117 (mast cells). In normal skin, telocytes were organized to form three-dimensional networks distributed among collagen bundles and elastic fibres, and surrounded microvessels, nerves and skin adnexa (hair follicles, sebaceous and sweat glands). Telocytes displayed severe ultrastructural damages (swollen mitochondria, cytoplasmic vacuolization, lipofuscinic bodies) suggestive of ischaemia-induced cell degeneration and were progressively lost from the clinically affected skin of SSc patients. Telocyte damage and loss evolved differently according to SSc subsets and stages, being more rapid and severe in diffuse SSc. Briefly, in human skin telocytes are a distinct stromal cell population. In SSc skin, the progressive loss of telocytes might (i) contribute to the altered three-dimensional organization of the extracellular matrix, (ii) reduce the control of fibroblast, myofibroblast and mast cell activity, and (iii) impair skin regeneration and/or repair.
PMCID: PMC3822649  PMID: 23444845
telocytes; skin; dermis; systemic sclerosis; scleroderma; fibrosis; immunohistochemistry; transmission electron microscopy
14.  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
15.  Validation of potential classification criteria for systemic sclerosis 
Arthritis care & research  2012;64(3):358-367.
Classification criteria for systemic sclerosis (SSc) are being updated jointly by ACR and EULAR. Potential items for classification were reduced to 23 using Delphi and Nominal Group Techniques. We evaluated the face, discriminant and construct validity of the items to be further studied as potential criteria.
Face validity was evaluated using the frequency of items in patients sampled from the Canadian Scleroderma Research Group, 1000 Faces of Lupus, the Pittsburgh, Toronto, Madrid and Berlin CTD databases. SSc (n=783) were compared to 1071 patients with diseases similar to SSc (mimickers): SLE (n=499), myositis (n=171), Sjögren’s syndrome (n=95), Raynaud’s phenomenon (RP) (n=228), MCTD (n=29), and idiopathic PAH (n=49). Discriminant validity was evaluated using odds ratios (OR). For construct validity, empiric ranking was compared to expert ranking.
Compared to mimickers, SSc are more likely to have skin thickening (OR=427), telangiectasias (OR=91), anti-RNA polymerase III antibody (OR=75), puffy fingers (OR=35), finger flexion contractures (OR=29), tendon/bursal friction rubs (OR=27), anti-topoisomerase-I antibody (OR=25), RP (OR=24), finger tip ulcers/pitting scars (OR=19), anti-centromere antibody(OR=14), abnormal nailfold capillaries (OR=10), GERD symptoms (OR=8), and ANA, calcinosis, dysphagia, esophageal dilation (all OR=6), interstitial lung disease/pulmonary fibrosis (OR=5) and anti-PM-Scl antibody (OR=2). Reduced DLCO, PAH, and reduced FVC had OR<2. Renal crisis and digital pulp loss/acro-osteolysis did not occur in SSc mimickers (OR not estimated). Empiric and expert ranking were correlated (Spearman rho 0.53, p=0.01).
The candidate items have good face, discriminant and construct validity. Further item reduction will be evaluated in prospective SSc and mimicker cases.
PMCID: PMC3376721  PMID: 22052658
Systemic Sclerosis; Scleroderma; Classification Criteria; Validity; Bayesian
16.  American College of Rheumatology/European League against Rheumatism Preliminary Definition of Remission in Rheumatoid Arthritis for Clinical Trials 
Arthritis and rheumatism  2011;63(3):573-586.
With remission in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) an increasingly attainable goal, there is no widely used definition of remission that is stringent but achievable and could be applied uniformly as an outcome in clinical trials.
A committee consisting of members of the American College of Rheumatology, the European League Against Rheumatism and the Outcome Measures in Rheumatology Initiative (OMERACT) met to guide the process and review prespecified analyses from clinical trials of patients with RA. The committee requested a stringent definition (little, if any, active disease) and decided to use core set measures to define remission including at least joint counts and an acute phase reactant. Members were surveyed to select the level of each core set measure consistent with remission. Candidate definitions of remission were tested including those that constituted a number of individual measures in remission (Boolean approach) as well as definitions using disease activity indexes. To select a definition of remission, trial data were analyzed to examine the added contribution of patient reported outcomes and the ability of candidate measures to predict later good x-ray and functional outcomes.
Survey results for the definition of remission pointed to indexes at published thresholds and to a count of core set measures with each measure scored as 1 or less (e.g. tender and swollen joint counts, CRP and global assessments on 0-10 scale). Analyses suggested the need to include a patient reported measure. Examination of 2 year follow-up data suggested that many candidate definitions performed comparably in terms of predicting later good x-ray and functional outcomes, although DAS28 based measures of remission did not predict good radiographic outcomes as well as did the other candidate definitions. Given these and other considerations, we propose that a patient be defined as in remission based on one of two definitions : 1: When their scores on the following measures are all <1: tender joint count, swollen joint count, CRP (in mg/dL) and patient global assessment (0-10 scale), OR 2: when their score on the SDAI is < 3.3.
We propose two new definitions of remission both of which can be uniformly applied and widely used in RA clinical trials. We recommend that one of these be selected in each trial as an outcome and that the results on both be reported in each trial.
PMCID: PMC3115717  PMID: 21294106
17.  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
18.  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
19.  Genome-Wide Scan Identifies TNIP1, PSORS1C1, and RHOB as Novel Risk Loci for Systemic Sclerosis 
PLoS Genetics  2011;7(7):e1002091.
Systemic sclerosis (SSc) is an orphan, complex, inflammatory disease affecting the immune system and connective tissue. SSc stands out as a severely incapacitating and life-threatening inflammatory rheumatic disease, with a largely unknown pathogenesis. We have designed a two-stage genome-wide association study of SSc using case-control samples from France, Italy, Germany, and Northern Europe. The initial genome-wide scan was conducted in a French post quality-control sample of 564 cases and 1,776 controls, using almost 500 K SNPs. Two SNPs from the MHC region, together with the 6 loci outside MHC having at least one SNP with a P<10−5 were selected for follow-up analysis. These markers were genotyped in a post-QC replication sample of 1,682 SSc cases and 3,926 controls. The three top SNPs are in strong linkage disequilibrium and located on 6p21, in the HLA-DQB1 gene: rs9275224, P = 9.18×10−8, OR = 0.69, 95% CI [0.60–0.79]; rs6457617, P = 1.14×10−7 and rs9275245, P = 1.39×10−7. Within the MHC region, the next most associated SNP (rs3130573, P = 1.86×10−5, OR = 1.36 [1.18–1.56]) is located in the PSORS1C1 gene. Outside the MHC region, our GWAS analysis revealed 7 top SNPs (P<10−5) that spanned 6 independent genomic regions. Follow-up of the 17 top SNPs in an independent sample of 1,682 SSc and 3,926 controls showed associations at PSORS1C1 (overall P = 5.70×10−10, OR:1.25), TNIP1 (P = 4.68×10−9, OR:1.31), and RHOB loci (P = 3.17×10−6, OR:1.21). Because of its biological relevance, and previous reports of genetic association at this locus with connective tissue disorders, we investigated TNIP1 expression. A markedly reduced expression of the TNIP1 gene and also its protein product were observed both in lesional skin tissue and in cultured dermal fibroblasts from SSc patients. Furthermore, TNIP1 showed in vitro inhibitory effects on inflammatory cytokine-induced collagen production. The genetic signal of association with TNIP1 variants, together with tissular and cellular investigations, suggests that this pathway has a critical role in regulating autoimmunity and SSc pathogenesis.
Author Summary
Systemic sclerosis (SSc) is a connective tissue disease characterized by generalized microangiopathy, severe immunologic alterations, and massive deposits of matrix components in the connective tissue. Epidemiological investigations indicate that SSc follows a pattern of multifactorial inheritance; however, only a few loci have been replicated in multiple studies. We undertook a two-stage genome-wide association study of SSc involving over 8,800 individuals of European ancestry. Combined analyses showed independent association at the known HLA-DQB1 region and revealed associations at PSORS1C1, TNIP1, and RHOB loci, in agreement with a strong immune genetic component. Because of its biological relevance, and previous reports of genetic association at this locus with other connective tissue disorders, we investigated TNIP1 expression. We observed a markedly reduced expression of the gene and its protein product in SSc, as well as its potential implication in control of extra-cellular matrix synthesis, providing a new clue for a link between inflammation/immunity and fibrosis.
PMCID: PMC3131285  PMID: 21750679
20.  Bosentan treatment of digital ulcers related to systemic sclerosis: results from the RAPIDS-2 randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial 
Ischaemic digital ulcers (DUs) are common in patients with systemic sclerosis (SSc) and are a cause of disease-related morbidity. In an earlier trial, treatment with bosentan, an oral endothelin receptor antagonist, reduced the occurrence of new DUs by 48%. The present study (RAPIDS-2, for ‘RAndomized, double-blind, Placebo-controlled study with bosentan on healing and prevention of Ischemic Digital ulcers in patients with systemic Sclerosis’) was conducted to more fully evaluate the effects of bosentan treatment on DUs associated with SSc.
This double-blind, placebo-controlled trial conducted at 41 centres in Europe and North America randomised 188 patients with SSc with at least 1 active DU (‘cardinal ulcer’) to bosentan 62.5 mg twice daily for 4 weeks and 125 mg twice daily thereafter for 20 weeks (n=98) or matching placebo (n=90; total 24 weeks). The two primary end points were the number of new DUs and the time to healing of the cardinal ulcer. Secondary end points included pain, disability and safety.
Over 24 weeks, bosentan treatment was associated with a 30% reduction in the number of new DUs compared with placebo (mean±standard error: 1.9±0.2 vs 2.7±0.3 new ulcers; p=0.04). This effect was greater in patients who entered the trial with more DUs. There was no difference between treatments in healing rate of the cardinal ulcer or secondary end points of pain and disability. Peripheral oedema and elevated aminotransferases were associated with bosentan treatment.
Bosentan treatment reduced the occurrence of new DUs in patients with SSc but had no effect on DU healing. Bosentan was well tolerated and may be a useful adjunct in the management of patients with SSc with recurrent DUs.
PMCID: PMC3002766  PMID: 20805294
21.  Registry Evaluation of Digital Ulcers in Systemic Sclerosis 
Digital ulcers are a very frequent complication of systemic sclerosis affecting about half of the SSc patients, and about 75% of the affected patients have their first DU episode within 5 years from their first non-Raynaud symptom. The lack of adequate classification criteria as well as the lack of knowledge of the development of DU have contributed to the opening of specific registries to better understand the natural history of these lesions. For these reason, specific disease registries play a fundamental role in this field of research. Thanks to the systematic collection of data and their subsequent analysis and comparison between different cohorts, it is possible to improve understanding of the underlying trigger mechanisms of DU development and to determine temporal trends. In the future, the development of recommendations for the management of DU remains of pivotal importance to prevent DU development and obtain rapid healing as well as reduction of pain and disability.
PMCID: PMC2938432  PMID: 20862203
22.  The EUSTAR model for teaching and implementing the modified Rodnan skin score in systemic sclerosis 
Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases  2007;66(7):966-969.
To evaluate the ability to teach scleroderma experts and young rheumatologists to perform the modified Rodnan skin score test.
Three international “teaching courses for teachers” were conducted with 6–9 experts who performed 3–9 skin score tests each. In addition, an international course for 90 young rheumatologists, in which 18 patients with systemic sclerosis (SSc) participated, was also organised. Finally, a local repeated training course for 5–9 rheumatologists was performed, in which 6–7 patients with SSc participated.
When 6–9 scleroderma specialists investigated the patients, the intraclass correlation coefficient (ICC) showed “good” to “excellent” values (0.865 and 0.710, respectively). When 90 young rheumatologists were involved in one teaching course, the coefficient of variation (CV) was relatively satisfactory (35%) owing to the high number of investigators, and with a considerable within‐patient SD value of 5.4.
Repeated teaching of 5–9 young rheumatologists in local courses clearly improved the consistency. The ICC increased from 0.496 to a “good” level of 0.722. The within‐patient SD values for intraobserver variability ranged between 2.5 and 2.9. The intraobserver CV was about 20%.
This study strongly supports the need for standardisation among different centres when using skin scoring for clinical trials. The intraobserver variability and within‐patient SD values can be significantly reduced by repeated teaching. For inexperienced rheumatologists, at least one repeated teaching course is needed.
PMCID: PMC1955103  PMID: 17234649
23.  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.
To evaluate the efficacy of switching to etanercept treatment in patients with rheumatoid arthritis who already responded to infliximab, but presented side effects.
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.
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).
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.
PMCID: PMC1798487  PMID: 16837489
24.  Clinical trials in systemic sclerosis: lessons learned and outcomes 
Arthritis Research & Therapy  2007;9(Suppl 2):S7.
The pathogenesis of systemic sclerosis (SSc) is complex and largely unclear. The clinical heterogeneity of the disease and its progression over a number of years makes the choice of endpoints in the design of clinical trials difficult. The overwhelming need in this disease is to diagnose it early and identify those patients who will benefit most from early, aggressive treatment that potentially can alter the clinical disease course. To achieve this, innumerable challenges must be overcome. This article reviews data from recent clinical trials and the lessons derived from retrospective observational studies, databases, and patient registries. Taken together, these observations will help to improve our understanding of the diverse clinical course of SSc and permit refinement of existing outcome measures for the design of future clinical trials, in which the likelihood of observing a positive treatment effect with the drugs at our disposal will be maximized.
PMCID: PMC2072887  PMID: 17767745
25.  A model of anti-angiogenesis: differential transcriptosome profiling of microvascular endothelial cells from diffuse systemic sclerosis patients 
The objective of this work was to identify genes involved in impaired angiogenesis by comparing the transcriptosomes of microvascular endothelial cells from normal subjects and patients affected by systemic sclerosis (SSc), as a unique human model disease characterized by insufficient angiogenesis. Total RNAs, prepared from skin endothelial cells of clinically healthy subjects and SSc patients affected by the diffuse form of the disease, were pooled, labeled with fluorochromes, and hybridized to 14,000 70 mer oligonucleotide microarrays. Genes were analyzed based on gene expression levels and categorized into different functional groups based on the description of the Gene Ontology (GO) consortium to identify statistically significant terms. Quantitative PCR was used to validate the array results. After data processing and application of the filtering criteria, the analyzable features numbered 6,724. About 3% of analyzable transcripts (199) were differentially expressed, 141 more abundantly and 58 less abundantly in SSc endothelial cells. Surprisingly, SSc endothelial cells over-express pro-angiogenic transcripts, but also show up-regulation of genes exerting a powerful negative control, and down-regulation of genes critical to cell migration and extracellular matrix-cytoskeleton coupling, all alterations that provide an impediment to correct angiogenesis. We also identified transcripts controlling haemostasis, inflammation, stimulus transduction, transcription, protein synthesis, and genome organization. An up-regulation of transcripts related to protein degradation and ubiquitination was observed in SSc endothelial cells. We have validated data on the main anti-angiogenesis-related genes by RT-PCR, western blotting, in vitro angiogenesis and immunohistochemistry. These observations indicate that microvascular endothelial cells of patients with SSc show abnormalities in a variety of genes that are able to account for defective angiogenesis.
PMCID: PMC1779372  PMID: 16859528

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