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1.  Histopathological cutaneous alterations in systemic sclerosis: a clinicopathological study 
The aims of the present study were to identify histopathological parameters which are linked to local clinical skin disease at two distinct anatomical sites in systemic sclerosis (SSc) patients with skin involvement (limited cutaneous systemic sclerosis (lcSSc) or diffuse cutaneous systemic sclerosis (dcSSc)) and to determine the sensitivity of SSc specific histological alterations, focusing on SSc patients without clinical skin involvement (limited SSc (lSSc)).
Histopathological alterations were systematically scored in skin biopsies of 53 consecutive SSc patients (dorsal forearm and upper inner arm) and 18 controls (upper inner arm). Clinical skin involvement was evaluated using the modified Rodnan skin score. In patients with lcSSc or dcSSc, associations of histopathological parameters with local clinical skin involvement were determined by generalised estimation equation modelling.
The hyalinised collagen score, the myofibroblast score, the mean epidermal thickness, the mononuclear cellular infiltration and the frequency of focal exocytosis differed significantly between biopsies with and without local clinical skin involvement. Except for mononuclear cellular infiltration, all of the continuous parameters correlated with the local clinical skin score at the dorsal forearm. Parakeratosis, myofibroblasts and intima proliferation were present in a minority of the SSc biopsies, but not in controls. No differences were found between lSSc and controls.
Several histopathological parameters are linked to local clinical skin disease. SSc-specific histological alterations have a low diagnostic sensitivity.
PMCID: PMC3241379  PMID: 21356083
2.  The Belgian MIRA (MabThera In Rheumatoid Arthritis) registry: clues for the optimization of rituximab treatment strategies 
Arthritis Research & Therapy  2010;12(5):R169.
This study describes the results of the Belgian 'MabThera In Rheumatoid Arthritis (MIRA)' registry: effectiveness, safety and evaluation of the current retreatment practice on the background of the Belgian reimbursement criteria for rituximab.
All Belgian rheumatologists had the possibility to participate in the study. Patients entered the registry in November 2006 and the entry is still open.
By mid-September 2009, 401 patients had entered the registry with a mean follow-up time of 70 weeks. Overall, DAS28-ESR decreased from 6.0 at baseline to 4.2 at week 16. Further decrease of disease activity was observed at the end of year 1 and year 2 with mean DAS28-ESR of 4.0 and 3.7 at these respective time points. More than 80% of patients showed a EULAR response at week 16. Patients could be retreated if they had DAS scores of > 3.2 at least 6 months after the previous course. Second and third courses were given in 224 and 104 patients, respectively. At month 6 after the second course, significantly lower DAS28-ESR values were observed compared to the first course. This was especially the case for patients who were retreated before they showed an obvious flare (DAS increase > 1.2).
This study describes the follow-up of a daily clinical practice cohort of 401 RA patients with long-standing refractory disease treated with rituximab. Relatively high DAS28 values at the start of each retreatment, compared to values 6 months after each treatment course, were noted. Moreover, further decrease of DAS28 scores after the second course was significantly more pronounced in those patients who didn't show an obvious flare. These two elements suggest that treatment of RA patients with rituximab could be optimized by earlier retreatment.
PMCID: PMC2990996  PMID: 20831776
3.  Citrullinated vimentin as an important antigen in immune complexes from synovial fluid of rheumatoid arthritis patients with antibodies against citrullinated proteins 
Arthritis Research & Therapy  2010;12(4):R132.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an inflammatory disease, which results in destruction of the joint. The presence of immune complexes (IC) in serum and synovial fluid of RA patients might contribute to this articular damage through different mechanisms, such as complement activation. Therefore, identification of the antigens from these IC is important to gain more insight into the pathogenesis of RA. Since RA patients have antibodies against citrullinated proteins (ACPA) in their serum and synovial fluid (SF) and since elevated levels of citrullinated proteins are detected in the joints of RA patients, citrullinated antigens are possibly present in IC from RA patients.
IC from serum of healthy persons, serum of RA patients and IC from synovial fluid of RA patients and Spondyloarthropathy (SpA) patients were isolated by immunoprecipitation. Identification of the antigens was performed by SDS-PAGE, mass spectrometry and immunodetection. The presence of citrullinated proteins was evaluated by anti-modified citrulline (AMC) staining.
Circulating IC in the serum of RA patients and healthy controls contain fibrinogenβ and fibronectin, both in a non-citrullinated form. Additionally, in IC isolated from RA SF, fibrinogenγ and vimentin were identified as well. More importantly, vimentin and a minor portion of fibrinogenβ were found to be citrullinated in the isolated complexes. Moreover these citrullinated antigens were only found in ACPA+ patients. No citrullinated antigens were found in IC from SF of SpA patients.
Citrullinated fibrinogenβ and citrullinated vimentin were found in IC from SF of ACPA+ RA patients, while no citrullinated antigens were found in IC from SF of ACPA- RA patients or SpA patients or in IC from serum of RA patients or healthy volunteers. The identification of citrullinated vimentin as a prominent citrullinated antigen in IC from SF of ACPA+ RA patients strengthens the hypothesis that citrullinated vimentin plays an important role in the pathogenesis of RA.
PMCID: PMC2945022  PMID: 20609218
4.  74-week follow-up of safety of infliximab in patients with refractory rheumatoid arthritis 
Arthritis Research & Therapy  2010;12(3):R121.
The objective was to describe the prevalence, types, and predictors of adverse events (AEs) in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients treated with infliximab and methotrexate in a daily clinical setting.
This was a prospective, multi-center, open-label, 74-week observational study in patients with active RA despite treatment with methotrexate and at least one other disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drug. Patients were treated with 3 mg/kg infliximab at weeks 0, 2, and 6 and then every 8 weeks. At weeks 0, 6, 26, 50, and 74, patients answered a health assessment questionnaire, a swollen joint count was made, and adverse events (AEs) occurring during the previous period were registered.
Five hundred and seventy-five patients were treated with infliximab, of which 346 were still on infliximab at the study end, 158 discontinued treatment, and 71 were lost to follow-up. Reasons for discontinuation included safety (n = 74), elective reasons (n = 43), and inefficacy (n = 41). Infusion reactions (n = 33) and infections (n = 20) were the most common AEs causing discontinuation and the most common AEs overall. There were four cases of tuberculosis, all of which occurred in patients negative at screening. Total AEs, serious AEs, and infusion reactions as well as discontinuations for AEs were most frequent during the first 26 weeks. Higher age was a predictor of serious adverse events (SAEs), infection, and discontinuation due to an SAE, but odds ratios were close to one.
AEs and discontinuations due to AEs occur most frequently during the first half year of infliximab treatment in refractory RA patients. The main reasons for discontinuing treatment are infections and infusion reactions. Tuberculosis and other infections remain an important concern in these patients.
PMCID: PMC2911915  PMID: 20569501
5.  Seven-year follow-up of infliximab therapy in rheumatoid arthritis patients with severe long-standing refractory disease: attrition rate and evolution of disease activity 
This study is based on the results from a Belgian expanded access program in which patients with active refractory and erosive rheumatoid arthritis (RA) were treated with intravenous infusions of infliximab in combination with methotrexate. The objectives of this study were to evaluate the continuation rate of infliximab and its clinical effect over a 7-year period and to document the reasons for discontinuation.
Between 2000 and 2001, 511 patients with severe and refractory RA were enrolled and treated with infliximab. After 7 years, apart from routine clinical follow-up, treating rheumatologists were asked to complete a questionnaire designed specifically for the present study to evaluate the current therapy with infliximab, the level of disease activity (Disease Activity Score in 28 joints [DAS28]) and the reasons for infliximab discontinuation.
After 7 years, 160 of 511 patients (31%) were still on infliximab treatment. The major reasons for infliximab discontinuation included lack of efficacy (104 patients), adverse events (107 patients) and elective change of therapy (70 patients). The majority of cases of treatment discontinuation for safety reasons occurred during the first 2 years. In contrast, discontinuation due to ineffectiveness showed a more constant rate over the 7-year period. Mean DAS for patients still on treatment with infliximab decreased from 5.7 (standard error [SE] 0.1) at baseline to 3.0 (SE 0.1) at year 4 and remained that low until year 7 (3.0 [SE 0.1]). Low disease activity (defined as DAS28 <3.2) was present in 60.9% of patients, and 45.5% achieved remission (DAS28 <2.6). DAS28 at the time of treatment discontinuation due to ineffectiveness decreased over the 7-year period from 5.6 (SE 0.3) in 2001 to 4.8 (SE 0.3) in 2008.
This observational study revealed that patients who continue to receive infliximab experience sustained clinical benefit. The majority of safety issues occurred during the first 2 years of infliximab therapy. We observed that the DAS at the time of therapy discontinuation showed a trend to decrease over time.
PMCID: PMC2911854  PMID: 20459619
7.  Diagnostic value of anti-human citrullinated fibrinogen ELISA and comparison with four other anti-citrullinated protein assays 
We studied the diagnostic performance of the anti-human citrullinated fibrinogen antibody (AhFibA) ELISA for rheumatoid arthritis (RA) in a consecutive cohort (population 1) and evaluated the agreement between the AhFibA ELISA and four other assays for anti-citrullinated protein/peptide antibodies (ACPAs) as well as rheumatoid factor in patients with longstanding RA (population 2). Population 1 consisted of 1024 patients with rheumatic symptoms; serum samples from these patients were sent to our laboratory for ACPA testing within the context of a diagnostic investigation for RA. Ninety-two of these patients were classified as having RA according to the American College of Rheumatology criteria and 463 were classified as non-RA patients. Population 2 consisted of 180 patients with longstanding RA and was used to assess agreement and correlations between five ACPA assays: anti-cyclic citrullinated peptide (CCP)1 and anti-CCP2 antibodies were detected using a commercially available ELISA, AhFibA using ELISA, and anti-PepA and anti-PepB antibodies using line immunoassay. Applying previously proposed cut-offs for AhFibA, we obtained a sensitivity of 60.9% and a specificity of 98.7% in population 1. Receiver operating characteristic curve analysis could not detect a significant difference in diagnostic performance between the AhFibA ELISA and anti-CCP2 assay. Performing a hierarchical nearest neighborhood cluster analysis of the five different ACPA assays in population 2, we identified two clusters: a cluster of anti-pepA, anti-pepB and anti-CCP1, and a cluster of AhFibA and anti-CCP2. In conclusion, we found that AhFibA and anti-CCP2 antibodies had similar diagnostic performance. However, disagreement between ACPA tests may occur.
PMCID: PMC1779401  PMID: 16859515
8.  Four-year follow-up of infliximab therapy in rheumatoid arthritis patients with long-standing refractory disease: attrition and long-term evolution of disease activity 
Although there is strong evidence supporting the short-term efficacy and safety of anti-tumour necrosis factor-α agents, few studies have examined the long-term effects. We evaluated 511 patients with long-standing refractory rheumatoid arthritis treated with intravenous infusions of infliximab 3 mg/kg at weeks 0, 2, 6, and 14 and every 8 weeks thereafter for 4 years. Among the initial 511 patients included in the study, 479 could be evaluated; of these, 295 (61.6%) were still receiving infliximab treatment at year 4 of follow-up. The most common reasons for treatment discontinuation were lack of efficacy (65 patients, 13.6%), safety (81 patients, 16.9%), and elective change (38 patients, 7.9%). Analysis of disease activity scores (DAS28 [disease activity score based on the 28-joint count]) over time showed that, after the initial rapid improvement during the first 6 to 22 weeks of therapy, a further decrease in disease activity of 0.2 units in the DAS28 score per year was observed. DAS28 scores, measured at week 14 or 22, were found to predict subsequent discontinuation due to lack of efficacy. In conclusion, long-term maintenance therapy with infliximab 3 mg/kg is effective in producing further reductions in disease activity. Disease activity measured by the DAS28 at week 14 or 22 of infliximab therapy was the best predictor of long-term attrition.
PMCID: PMC1779428  PMID: 16978395
9.  DAS28 best reflects the physician's clinical judgment of response to infliximab therapy in rheumatoid arthritis patients: validation of the DAS28 score in patients under infliximab treatment 
Arthritis Research & Therapy  2005;7(5):R1063-R1071.
This study is based on an expanded access program in which 511 patients suffering from active refractory rheumatoid arthritis (RA) were treated with intravenous infusions of infliximab (3 mg/kg+methotrexate (MTX)) at weeks 0, 2, 6 and every 8 weeks thereafter. At week 22, 474 patients were still in follow-up, of whom 102 (21.5%), who were not optimally responding to treatment, received a dose increase from week 30 onward. We aimed to build a model to discriminate the decision to give a dose increase. This decision was based on the treating rheumatologist's clinical judgment and therefore can be considered as a clinical measure of insufficient response. Different single and composite measures at weeks 0, 6, 14 and 22, and their differences over time were taken into account for the model building. Ranking of the continuous variables based on areas under the curve of receiver-operating characteristic (ROC) curve analysis, displayed the momentary DAS28 (Disease Activity Score including a 28-joint count) as the most important discriminating variable. Subsequently, we proved that the response scores and the changes over time were less important than the momentary evaluations to discriminate the physician's decision. The final model we thus obtained was a model with only slightly better discriminative characteristics than the DAS28. Finally, we fitted a discriminant function using the single variables of the DAS28. This displayed similar scores and coefficients as the DAS28. In conclusion, we evaluated different variables and models to discriminate the treating rheumatologist's decision to increase the dose of infliximab (+MTX), which indicates an insufficient response to infliximab at 3 mg/kg in patients with RA. We proved that the momentary DAS28 score correlates best with this decision and demonstrated the robustness of the score and the coefficients of the DAS28 in a cohort of RA patients under infliximab therapy.
PMCID: PMC1257436  PMID: 16207323
10.  Tumor necrosis factor-α blockade in ankylosing spondylitis: a potent but expensive anti-inflammatory treatment or true disease modification? 
Arthritis Research & Therapy  2005;7(3):121-123.
Blocking tumor necrosis factor-α either with monoclonal antibodies or with soluble receptor constructs has been proven to be effective with an acceptable safety profile in patients with rheumatoid arthritis, and more recently also in the diseases belonging to the spondyloarthropathy concept. Nevertheless multiple questions still remain unresolved especially concerning longer-term treatment. Data from a recent manuscript by Baraliakos and colleagues seem to indicate that at least for the vast majority of ankylosing spondylitis patients treatment with infliximab can not be withdrawn, if one wants to control disease activity in a continuous way. Although still unproven, this might be of crucial importance with regard to structure modification and prevention of ankylosis in this chronic inflammatory disorder.
PMCID: PMC1174966  PMID: 15899063
11.  Synovial histopathology of psoriatic arthritis, both oligo- and polyarticular, resembles spondyloarthropathy more than it does rheumatoid arthritis 
Arthritis Research & Therapy  2005;7(3):R569-R580.
At present only few biological data are available to indicate whether psoriatic arthritis (PsA) is part of the spondyloarthropathy (SpA) concept, whether it is a separate disease entity or a heterogeneous disease group with oligoarticular/axial forms belonging to SpA and polyarticular forms resembling rheumatoid arthritis (RA). To address this issue with regard to peripheral synovitis, we compared the synovial characteristics of PsA with those of ankylosing spondylitis (AS)/undifferentiated SpA (USpA) and RA, and compared the synovium of oligoarticular versus polyarticular PsA. Synovial biopsies were obtained from patients with RA, nonpsoriatic SpA (AS + USpA), and oligoarticular and polyarticular PsA. The histological analysis included examination(s) of the lining layer thickness, vascularity, cellular infiltration, lymphoid aggregates, plasma cells and neutrophils. Also, we performed immunohistochemical assessments of CD3, CD4, CD8, CD20, CD38, CD138, CD68, CD163, CD83, CD1a, CD146, αVβ3, E-selectin, intercellular adhesion molecule-1, vascular cell adhesion molecule-1, S100A12, intracellular citrullinated proteins and major histocompatibility complex (MHC)–human cartilage (HC) gp39 peptide complexes. Comparing SpA (PsA + AS + USpA) with RA, vascularity, and neutrophil and CD163+ macrophage counts were greater in SpA (P < 0.05), whereas lining layer thickness and the number of CD83+ dendritic cells were greater in RA (P < 0.05). In RA, 44% of samples exhibited positive staining for intracellular citrullinated proteins and 46% for MHC–HC gp39 peptide complexes, whereas no staining for these markers was observed in SpA samples. We excluded influences of disease-modifying antirheumatic drug and/or corticosteroid treatment by conducting systematic analyses of treated and untreated subgroups. Focusing on PsA, no significant differences were observed between PsA and nonpsoriatic SpA. In contrast, vascularity (P < 0.001) and neutrophils were increased in PsA as compared with RA (P = 0.010), whereas staining for intracellular citrullinated proteins and MHC–HC gp39 peptide complexes was exclusively observed in RA (both P = 0.001), indicating that the same discriminating features are found in PsA and other SpA subtypes compared with RA. Exploring synovial histopathology between oligoarticular and polyarticular PsA, no significant differences were noted. Moreover, intracellular citrullinated proteins and MHC–HC gp39 peptide complexes, which are specific markers for RA, were observed in neither oligoarticular nor polyarticular PsA. Taken together, these data indicate that the synovial histopathology of PsA, either oligoarticular or polyarticular, resembles that of other SpA subtypes, whereas both groups can be differentiated from RA on the basis of these same synovial features, suggesting that peripheral synovitis in PsA belongs to the SpA concept.
PMCID: PMC1174942  PMID: 15899044
12.  Infiltration of the synovial membrane with macrophage subsets and polymorphonuclear cells reflects global disease activity in spondyloarthropathy 
Arthritis Research & Therapy  2005;7(2):R359-R369.
Considering the relation between synovial inflammation and global disease activity in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and the distinct but heterogeneous histology of spondyloarthropathy (SpA) synovitis, the present study analyzed whether histopathological features of synovium reflect specific phenotypes and/or global disease activity in SpA. Synovial biopsies obtained from 99 SpA and 86 RA patients with active knee synovitis were analyzed for 15 histological and immunohistochemical markers. Correlations with swollen joint count, serum C-reactive protein concentrations, and erythrocyte sedimentation rate were analyzed using classical and multiparameter statistics. SpA synovitis was characterized by higher vascularity and infiltration with CD163+ macrophages and polymorphonuclear leukocytes (PMNs) and by lower values for lining-layer hyperplasia, lymphoid aggregates, CD1a+ cells, intracellular citrullinated proteins, and MHC–HC gp39 complexes than RA synovitis. Unsupervised clustering of the SpA samples based on synovial features identified two separate clusters that both contained different SpA subtypes but were significantly differentiated by concentration of C-reactive protein and erythrocyte sedimentation rate. Global disease activity in SpA correlated significantly with lining-layer hyperplasia as well as with inflammatory infiltration with macrophages, especially the CD163+ subset, and with PMNs. Accordingly, supervised clustering using these synovial parameters identified a cluster of 20 SpA patients with significantly higher disease activity, and this finding was confirmed in an independent SpA cohort. However, multiparameter models based on synovial histopathology were relatively poor predictors of disease activity in individual patients. In conclusion, these data indicate that inflammatory infiltration of the synovium with CD163+ macrophages and PMNs as well as lining-layer hyperplasia reflect global disease activity in SpA, independently of the SpA subtype. These data support a prominent role for innate immune cells in SpA synovitis and warrant further evaluation of synovial histopathology as a surrogate marker in early-phase therapeutic trials in SpA.
PMCID: PMC1065336  PMID: 15743484
disease activity; histopathology; spondyloarthropathy; surrogate marker; synovium

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