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1.  Unmet Needs of People with Severe Multiple Sclerosis and Their Carers: Qualitative Findings for a Home-Based Intervention 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(10):e109679.
Few data on services for people with severe multiple sclerosis (MS) are available. The Palliative Network for Severely Affected Adults with MS in Italy (PeNSAMI) developed a home palliative care program for MS patients and carers, preceded by a literature review and qualitative study (here reported).
To identify unmet needs of people with severe MS living at home by qualitative research involving key stakeholders, and theorize broad areas of intervention to meet those needs.
Data were collected from: at least 10 personal interviews with adults with severe MS (primary/secondary progressive, EDSS≥8.0); three focus group meetings (FGs) of carers of people with severe MS; and two FGs of health professionals (HPs). Grounded theory guided the analysis of interview and FG transcripts, from which the areas of intervention were theorized.
Between October 2012 and May 2013, 22 MS patients, 30 carers and 18 HPs participated. Forty-eight needs themes were identified, grouped into 14 categories and four domains. Seven, highly interdependent intervention areas were theorized. Patients had difficulties expressing needs; experiences of burden and loneliness were prominent, chiefly in dysfunctional, less affluent families, and among parent carers. Needs differed across Italy with requirements for information and access to services highest in the South. All participants voiced a strong need for qualified personnel and care coordination in day-to-day home care. Personal hygiene emerged as crucial, as did the need for a supportive network and preservation of patient/carer roles within family and community.
Unmet needs transcended medical issues and embraced organizational and psychosocial themes, as well as health policies. The high interdependence of the seven intervention areas theorized is in line with the multifaceted approach of palliative care. At variance with typical palliative contexts, coping with disability rather than end-of-life was a major concern of patients and carers.
PMCID: PMC4186842  PMID: 25286321
2.  Paternal therapy with disease modifying drugs in multiple sclerosis and pregnancy outcomes: a prospective observational multicentric study 
BMC Neurology  2014;14:114.
Most of Multiple Sclerosis (MS) patients undergo disease modifying drug (DMD) therapy at childbearing age. The objective of this prospective, collaborative study, was to assess outcomes of pregnancies fathered by MS patients undergoing DMD.
Structured interviews on pregnancies fathered by MS patients gathered in the Italian Pregnancy Dataset were collected; pregnancies were divided according to father exposure or unexposure to DMD at time of procreation. Treatment were compared with multivariable logistic and linear models.
Seventy-eight pregnancies fathered by MS patients were tracked. Forty-five patients were taking DMD at time of conception (39 beta-interferons, 6 glatiramer acetate), while 33 pregnancies were unexposed to DMD. Seventy-five pregnancies ended in live-births, 44 in the exposed and 31 in the unexposed group. No significant differences between the two groups were found in the risk of spontaneous abortion or malformations (p > 0.454), mean gestational age (p = 0.513), frequency of cesarean delivery (p = 0.644), birth weight (p = 0.821) and birth length (p = 0.649). In comparison with data of the Italian general population, the proportion of spontaneous abortion and caesarean delivery in exposed pregnancies fell within the estimates, while the proportion of pre-term delivery in the exposed group was higher than expected.
Our data indicate no association between paternal DMD exposure at time of conception and risk of spontaneous abortion, adverse fetal outcomes and congenital malformations. Further studies clarifying the role of DMD fathers intake prior and during pregnancy are desirable, to supply guidelines for clinical practice.
PMCID: PMC4059028  PMID: 24884599
Multiple sclerosis; Paternity; Pregnancy; Interferon beta; Glatiramer acetate
3.  Gray Matters in Multiple Sclerosis: Cognitive Impairment and Structural MRI 
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an immune-mediated disease affecting central nervous system (CNS). Although MS is classically considered a white matter (WM) disease, the involvement of gray matter (GM) in the pathogenic process has been confirmed by pathology studies and MRI studies. Impairment of cognitive domains such as memory, mental processing speed, attention, and executive function can occur from the early stage of the disease and tends to worsen over time, despite stable physical symptoms. WM demyelination is moderately correlated with CI, suggesting that probably WM abnormalities alone cannot fully explain the extent of clinical symptoms in MS, including CI. Several MRI techniques have shown the involvement of GM in MS and the association between GM damage, physical disability, and CI. The aim of this review is to provide an overview of CI and GM damage assessed by structural brain MRI.
PMCID: PMC3920616  PMID: 24587905
4.  Multiple Sclerosis in the Mount Etna Region: Possible Role of Volcanogenic Trace Elements 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(12):e74259.
Trace elements have been hypothesised to be involved in the pathogenesis of Multiple Sclerosis and volcanic degassing is the major natural sources of trace elements. Both incidence of Multiple Sclerosis in Catania and volcanic activity of Mount Etna have been significantly increased during the last 30 years. Due to prevailing trade winds direction, volcanic gases from Etna summit craters are mostly blown towards the eastern and southern sectors of the volcano.
To evaluate the possible association between Multiple Sclerosis and exposure to volcanogenic trace elements.
We evaluated prevalence and incidence of Multiple Sclerosis in four communities (47,234 inhabitants) located in the eastern flank and in two communities (52,210 inhabitants) located in the western flank of Mount Etna, respectively the most and least exposed area to crater gas emissions.
A higher prevalence was found in the population of the eastern flank compared to the population of the western one (137.6/100,000 versus 94.3/100,000; p-value 0.04). We found a borderline significantly higher incidence risk during the incidence study period (1980–2009) in the population of the eastern flank 4.6/100,000 (95% CI 3.1–5.9), compared with the western population 3.2/100,000 (95% CI 2.4–4.2) with a RR of 1.41 (95% CI 0.97–2.05; p-value 0.06). Incidence risks have increased over the time in both populations reaching a peak of 6.4/100,000 in the eastern flank and of 4.4/100.000 in the western flank during 2000–2009.
We found a higher prevalence and incidence of Multiple Sclerosis among populations living in the eastern flank of Mount Etna. According to our data a possible role of TE cannot be ruled out as possible co-factor in the MS pathogenesis. However larger epidemiological study are needed to confirm this hypothesis.
PMCID: PMC3859652  PMID: 24348986
5.  Subcutaneous Interferon β-1a May Protect against Cognitive Impairment in Patients with Relapsing–Remitting Multiple Sclerosis: 5-Year Follow-up of the COGIMUS Study 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(8):e74111.
To assess the effects of subcutaneous (sc) interferon (IFN) -1a on cognition over 5 years in mildly disabled patients with relapsing–remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS).
Patients aged 18–50 years with RRMS (Expanded Disability Status Scale score ≤4.0) who had completed the 3-year COGIMUS study underwent standardized magnetic resonance imaging, neurological examination, and neuropsychological testing at years 4 and 5. Predictors of cognitive impairment at year 5 were identified using multivariate analysis.
Of 331 patients who completed the 3-year COGIMUS study, 265 participated in the 2-year extension study, 201 of whom (75.8%; sc IFN β-1a three times weekly: 44 µg, n = 108; 22 µg, n = 93) completed 5 years' follow-up. The proportion of patients with cognitive impairment in the study population overall remained stable between baseline (18.0%) and year 5 (22.6%). The proportion of patients with cognitive impairment also remained stable in both treatment groups between baseline and year 5, and between year 3 and year 5. However, a significantly higher proportion of men than women had cognitive impairment at year 5 (26.5% vs 14.4%, p = 0.046). Treatment with the 22 versus 44 µg dose was predictive of cognitive impairment at year 5 (hazard ratio 0.68; 95% confidence interval 0.48–0.97).
This study suggests that sc IFN β-1a dose-dependently stabilizes or delays cognitive impairment over a 5-year period in most patients with mild RRMS. Women seem to be more protected against developing cognitive impairment, which may indicate greater response to therapy or the inherently better prognosis associated with female sex in MS.
PMCID: PMC3796707  PMID: 24137499
6.  Cognitive impairment and “invisible symptoms” are not associated with CCSVI in MS 
BMC Neurology  2013;13:97.
We investigated the association between chronic cerebrospinal venous insufficiency (CCSVI) and cognitive impairment (CI) in multiple sclerosis (MS). Moreover, we evaluated the association between CCSVI and other frequent self-reported MS symptoms.
We looked at the presence of CI in incident MS patients with CCVSI in a population-based cohort of Catania, Italy. All subjects were group-matched by age, sex, disease duration and EDSS score with MS patients without CCSVI, serving as controls. CI was assessed with the Brief Repeatable Battery (BRB) and the Stroop Test (ST) and it was defined by the presence of at least three impaired tests. Fatigue and depressive symptoms were assessed with Fatigue Severity Scale (FSS) and Hamilton Depressive Rating Scale (HDRS), respectively. Bladder and sexual symptoms were assessed with the respective items of the Italian version of Guy's Neurological Disability Scale (GNDS). Quality of life was evaluated with Multiple Sclerosis Quality of Life-54 Instrument (MSQOL-54).
Out of 61 MS patients enrolled in the study, 27 were CCSVI positive and 34 were CCSVI negative. Of them, 43 were women (70.5%); the mean age was 43.9 ± 11.8 years; the mean disease duration was 159.7 ± 113.7 months; mean EDSS was 3.0 ± 2.6. Of them, 36 (59.0%) were classified relapsing-remitting (RR), 12 (19.7%) secondary progressive (SP), seven (11.5%) primary progressive (PP) and six (9.3%) Clinically Isolated Syndrome (CIS). Overall, CI was detected in 29/61 (47.5%) MS patients; particularly 13/27 (48.1%) in the CCSVI positive group and 16/34 (47.0%) in the CCSVI negative group. Presence of CCSVI was not significantly associated with the presence of CI (OR 1.04; 95% CI 0.37-2.87; p-value = 0.9). Not significant differences were found between the two groups regarding the other MS symptoms investigated.
Our findings suggest a lack of association between CCSVI and CI in MS patients. Fatigue, depressive, bladder/sexual symptoms and self-reported quality of life are not associated with CCSVI.
PMCID: PMC3734156  PMID: 23889853
7.  Epidural analgesia and cesarean delivery in multiple sclerosis post-partum relapses: the Italian cohort study 
BMC Neurology  2012;12:165.
Few studies have systematically addressed the role of epidural analgesia and caesarean delivery in predicting the post-partum disease activity in women with Multiple Sclerosis (MS).
The objective of this study was to assess the impact of epidural analgesia (EA) and caesarean delivery (CD) on the risk of post-partum relapses and disability in women with MS.
In the context of an Italian prospective study on the safety of immunomodulators in pregnancy, we included pregnancies occurred between 2002 and 2008 in women with MS regularly followed-up in 21 Italian MS centers. Data were gathered through a standardized, semi-structured interview, dealing with pregnancy outcomes, breastfeeding, type of delivery (vaginal or caesarean) and EA. The risk of post-partum relapses and disability progression (1 point on the Expanded Disability Status Sclae, EDSS, point, confirmed after six months) was assessed through a logistic multivariate regression analysis.
We collected data on 423 pregnancies in 415 women. Among these, 349 pregnancies resulted in full term deliveries, with a post-partum follow-up of at least one year (mean follow-up period 5.5±3.1 years). One hundred and fifty-five patients (44.4%) underwent CD and 65 (18.5%) EA. In the multivariate analysis neither CD, nor EA were associated with a higher risk of post-partum relapses. Post-partum relapses were related to a higher EDSS score at conception (OR=1.42; 95% CI 1.11-1.82; p=0.005), a higher number of relapses in the year before pregnancy (OR=1.62; 95% CI 1.15-2.29; p=0.006) and during pregnancy (OR=3.07; 95% CI 1.40-6.72; p=0.005). Likewise, CD and EA were not associated with disability progression on the EDSS after delivery. The only significant predictor of disability progression was the occurrence of relapses in the year after delivery (disability progression in the year after delivery: OR= 4.00; 95% CI 2.0-8.2; p<0.001; disability progression over the whole follow-up period: OR= 2.0; 95% CI 1.2-3.3; p=0.005).
Our findings, show no correlation between EA, CD and postpartum relapses and disability. Therefore these procedures can safely be applied in MS patients. On the other hand, post-partum relapses are significantly associated with increased disability, which calls for the need of preventive therapies after delivery.
PMCID: PMC3544735  PMID: 23276328
Epidural analgesia; Caesarean delivery; Multiple sclerosis; Pregnancy
8.  Pregnancy and fetal outcomes after Glatiramer Acetate exposure in patients with multiple sclerosis: a prospective observational multicentric study 
BMC Neurology  2012;12:124.
Only few studies have assessed safety of in utero exposure to glatiramer acetate (GA). Following a previous study assessing the safety of interferon beta (IFNB) pregnancy exposure in multiple sclerosis (MS), we aimed to assess pregnancy and fetal outcomes after in utero exposure to GA, using the same dataset, with a specific focus on the risk of spontaneous abortion.
Materials and methods
We recruited MS patients, prospectively followed-up in 21 Italian MS Centres, for whom a pregnancy was recorded in the period 2002–2008. Patients were divided into 2 groups: drug-exposed pregnancies (EP: suspension of the drug less than 4 weeks from conception); non-exposed pregnancies (NEP: suspension of the drug at least 4 weeks from conception or never treated pregnancies). All the patients were administered a structured interview which gathered detailed information on pregnancy course and outcomes, as well as on possible confounders. Multivariate logistic and linear models were used for treatment comparisons.
Data on 423 pregnancies were collected, 17 were classified as EP to GA, 88 as EP to IFNB, 318 as NEP. Pregnancies resulted in 16 live births in the GA EP, 75 live births in the IFNB EP, 295 live births in the NEP. GA exposure was not significantly associated with an increased risk of spontaneous abortion (OR = 0.44;95% CI 0.044-4.51;p = 0.49). Mean birth weight and length were not significantly different in pregnancies exposed to GA than in non exposed pregnancies (p = 0.751). The frequency of preterm delivery, observed in 4 subjects exposed to GA (25% of full term deliveries), was not significantly higher in pregnancies exposed to GA than in those non exposed (p > 0.735). These findings were confirmed in the multivariate analysis. There were neither major complications nor malformations after GA exposure.
Data in our cohort show that mother’s GA exposure is not associated with a higher frequency of spontaneous abortion, neither other negative pregnancy and fetal outcomes. Our findings point to the safety of in utero GA exposure and can support neurologists in the therapeutic counselling of MS women planning a pregnancy.
PMCID: PMC3487812  PMID: 23088447
Glatiramer acetate; Multiple sclerosis; Pregnancy; Pregnancy outcome; In utero exposure
9.  Multiple Sclerosis and CCSVI: A Population-Based Case Control Study 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(8):e41227.
Chronic cerebrospinal venous insufficiency (CCSVI) has been associated to multiple sclerosis (MS).
To evaluate the possible association between CCSVI and MS, using a population-based control design.
A random cohort of 148 incident MS patients were enrolled in the study. We have also studied 20 patients with clinically isolated syndrome (CIS), 40 patients with other neurological diseases (OND), and 172 healthy controls. Transcranial (TCC) and Echo Color Doppler (ECD) were carried out in 380 subjects. A subject was considered CCSVI positive if ≥2 venous hemodynamic criteria were fulfilled.
CCSVI was present in 28 (18.9%) of the MS patients, in 2 (10%) of CIS patients, in 11 (6.4%) of the controls, and in 2 (5%) of the OND patients. A significant association between MS and CCSVI was found with an odds ratio of 3.41 (95% confidence interval 1.63–7.13; p = 0.001). CCSVI was significantly more frequent among MS subjects with a disease duration longer than 144 months (26.1% versus 12.6% of patients with duration shorter than 144 months; p = 0.03) and among patients with secondary progressive (SP) and primary progressive (PP) forms (30.2% and 29.4, respectively) than in patients with relapsing remitting (RR) MS (14.3%). A stronger association was found considering SP and PP forms (age adjusted OR = 4.7; 95% CI 1.83–12.0, p = 0.001); the association was weaker with the RR patients (age adjusted OR = 2.58; 95%CI 1.12–5.92; p = 0.02) or not significant in CIS group (age adjusted OR = 2.04; 95%CI 0.40–10.3; p = 0.4).
A higher frequency of CCSVI has been found in MS patients; it was more evident in patients with advanced MS, suggesting that CCSVI could be related to MS disability.
PMCID: PMC3411668  PMID: 22870210
10.  Changes in magnetic resonance imaging disease measures over 3 years in mildly disabled patients with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis receiving interferon β-1a in the COGnitive Impairment in MUltiple Sclerosis (COGIMUS) study 
BMC Neurology  2011;11:125.
Conventional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has improved the diagnosis and monitoring of multiple sclerosis (MS). In clinical trials, MRI has been found to detect treatment effects with greater sensitivity than clinical measures; however, clinical and MRI outcomes tend to correlate poorly.
In this observational study, patients (n = 550; 18-50 years; relapsing-remitting MS [Expanded Disability Status Scale score ≤4.0]) receiving interferon (IFN) β-1a therapy (44 or 22 µg subcutaneously [sc] three times weekly [tiw]) underwent standardized MRI, neuropsychological and quality-of-life (QoL) assessments over 3 years. In this post hoc analysis, MRI outcomes and correlations between MRI parameters and clinical and functional outcomes were analysed.
MRI data over 3 years were available for 164 patients. T2 lesion and T1 gadolinium-enhancing (Gd+) lesion volumes, but not black hole (BH) volumes, decreased significantly from baseline to Year 3 (P < 0.0001). Percentage decreases (baseline to Year 3) were greater with the 44 μg dose than with the 22 μg dose for T2 lesion volume (-10.2% vs -4.5%, P = 0.025) and T1 BH volumes (-7.8% vs +10.3%, P = 0.002). A decrease in T2 lesion volume over 3 years predicted stable QoL over the same time period. Treatment with IFN β-1a, 44 μg sc tiw, predicted an absence of cognitive impairment at Year 3.
Subcutaneous IFN β-1a significantly decreased MRI measures of disease, with a significant benefit shown for the 44 µg over the 22 µg dose; higher-dose treatment also predicted better cognitive outcomes over 3 years.
PMCID: PMC3214173  PMID: 21999142
11.  Lights and Shadows of Cyclophosphamide in the Treatment of Multiple Sclerosis 
Autoimmune Diseases  2011;2011:961702.
Cyclophosphamide (cy) is an alkylating agent used to treat malignancies and immune-mediated inflammatory nonmalignant processes. It has been used as a treatment in cases of worsening multiple sclerosis (MS). Cy is currently used for patients whose disease is not controlled by beta-interferon or glatiramer acetate as well as those with rapidly worsening MS. The most commonly used regimens involve outpatient IV pulse therapy given with or without corticosteroids every 4 to 8 weeks. Side effects include nausea, headache, alopecia, pain, male and women infertility, bladder toxicity, and risk of malignancy. Previous studies suggest that cy is effective in patients in the earlier stages of disease, where inflammation predominates over degenerative processes. Given that early inflammatory events appear to correlate with later disability, a major question is whether strong anti-inflammatory drugs, such as cy, will have an impact on later degenerative changes if given early in the disease to halt inflammation.
PMCID: PMC3087413  PMID: 21547093
12.  An efficient method to find potentially universal population genetic markers, applied to metazoans 
Despite the impressive growth of sequence databases, the limited availability of nuclear markers that are sufficiently polymorphic for population genetics and phylogeography and applicable across various phyla restricts many potential studies, particularly in non-model organisms. Numerous introns have invariant positions among kingdoms, providing a potential source for such markers. Unfortunately, most of the few known EPIC (Exon Primed Intron Crossing) loci are restricted to vertebrates or belong to multigenic families.
In order to develop markers with broad applicability, we designed a bioinformatic approach aimed at avoiding multigenic families while identifying intron positions conserved across metazoan phyla. We developed a program facilitating the identification of EPIC loci which allowed slight variation in intron position. From the Homolens databases we selected 29 gene families which contained 52 promising introns for which we designed 93 primer pairs. PCR tests were performed on several ascidians, echinoderms, bivalves and cnidarians. On average, 24 different introns per genus were amplified in bilaterians. Remarkably, five of the introns successfully amplified in all of the metazoan genera tested (a dozen genera, including cnidarians). The influence of several factors on amplification success was investigated. Success rate was not related to the phylogenetic relatedness of a taxon to the groups that most influenced primer design, showing that these EPIC markers are extremely conserved in animals.
Our new method now makes it possible to (i) rapidly isolate a set of EPIC markers for any phylum, even outside the animal kingdom, and thus, (ii) compare genetic diversity at potentially homologous polymorphic loci between divergent taxa.
PMCID: PMC2949868  PMID: 20836842
13.  Optimizing the benefit of multiple sclerosis therapy: the importance of treatment adherence 
Poor treatment adherence is problematic in many therapy areas, including multiple sclerosis (MS). Several immunomodulatory drugs are available for the treatment of MS, all of which require frequent parenteral administration. Current first-line therapies are two formulations of interferon (IFN) beta-1a, one of IFN beta-1b, and one of glatiramer acetate. Discontinuation of treatment is common, particularly in the first few months after initiation. Although the true effect of poor adherence to MS therapy is not known, it is likely to lead to a fall in treatment efficacy. Many factors influence a patient’s adherence to treatment, including the patient’s MS subtype and disability level, cognitive impairment resulting from MS, perceived lack of efficacy of the prescribed medication, and adverse events associated with MS therapy. This article summarizes the barriers to adherence to MS therapies, and discusses patient management strategies that can be employed to encourage adherence. Future advances in the field of MS treatment will be explored, including the development of orally administered drugs, which may enhance adherence.
PMCID: PMC2819898  PMID: 20165593
multiple sclerosis; adherence; compliance; interruption; adverse events; efficacy; tolerability; management
14.  Clinical efficacy issues in the treatment of multiple sclerosis: update of natalizumab 
Multiple sclerosis is a frequent neurologic disease, which causes sensory impairment, fatigue, cognitive deficits, imbalance, loss of mobility, spasticity, and bladder and bowel dysfunction. Several new therapies have been introduced in the past decade, but additional drugs are needed to slow disease progression and reduce disability. Natalizumab (NA) is an α4 integrin antagonist, effective in decreasing the development of brain lesions in experimental models and in several studies of patients with MS. Six randomized controlled trials of NA in MS have been published in the last 10 years. Overall, 2,688 relapsing-remitting MS subjects have been enrolled in these studies. Hence, there are already sufficient data to draw some conclusions about the effectiveness of NA in the treatment of MS, although for definitive considerations it would be reasonable to wait for the observational phase IV studies of clinical practice to complete. Moreover, the medical community is concerned with the safety of NA, particularly with the risk of developing progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy while on NA therapy. From the analyses of the six cases, it seems that the overall risk is around 1/1,000 and could increase with the number of NA infusions.
PMCID: PMC3169988  PMID: 21935306
multiple sclerosis; disease-modifying drugs; natalizumab; progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy
15.  Subcutaneous Interferon Beta-1a Has a Positive Effect on Cognitive Performance in Mildly Disabled Patients with Relapsing-Remitting Multiple Sclerosis 
The effect of interferon (IFN) beta-1a (44 and 22 μg subcutaneously [sc] three times weekly [tiw]) on cognition in mildly disabled patients with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (McDonald criteria; Expanded Disability Status Scale =4.0) was assessed by validated neuropsychological testing at baseline and at regular intervals for up to 2 years in this ongoing open-label, 3-year study. Year-2 data were available for 356 patients (22 μg, n = 175; 44μg, n = 181). The proportion of patients with impaired cognitive function was stable during the study: 21.4% at baseline and 21.6% at 2 years. At 2 years, the proportion of patients with =3 impaired cognitive tests was significantly lower in the 44 μg treatment group (17.0%) compared with the 22 μg group (26.5%; p = 0.034), although there was already a trend towards a higher proportion of patients with cognitive impairment in the 22 μg group at baseline. Factors associated with impairment in = three cognitive tests after 2 years were age (odds ratio [OR]: 1.05; 95% confidence interval [CI]: 1.00-1.09), verbal intelligence quotient (OR: 0.95; 95% CI: 0.92-0.98), and having = three impaired cognitive tests at baseline (OR: 11.60; 95% CI: 5.94-22.64). These interim results show that IFN beta-1a sc tiw may have beneficial effects on cognitive function as early as 2 years after treatment initiation, but the final 3-year data of the study are required to confirm these results.
PMCID: PMC3002625  PMID: 21180642
cognitive function; cognitive impairment; interferon beta-1a; relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis

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