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Concept: Scleroderma


OBJECTIVES: Targeted therapies for systemic sclerosis (SSc) and other fibrotic diseases are not yet available. We evaluated the efficacy of heat shock protein 90 (Hsp90) inhibition as a novel approach to inhibition of aberrant transforming growth factor (TGF)-β signalling and for the treatment of fibrosis in preclinical models of SSc. METHODS: Expression of Hsp90 was quantified by quantitative PCR, western blot and immunohistochemistry. The effects of Hsp90 inhibition were analysed in cultured fibroblasts, in bleomycin-induced dermal fibrosis, in tight-skin (Tsk-1) mice and in mice overexpressing a constitutively active TGF-β receptor I (TβRI). RESULTS: Expression of Hsp90β was increased in SSc skin and in murine models of SSc in a TGF-β-dependent manner. Inhibition of Hsp90 by 17-dimethylaminoethylamino-17-demethoxy-geldanamycin (17-DMAG) inhibited canonical TGF-β signalling and completely prevented the stimulatory effects of TGF-β on collagen synthesis and myofibroblast differentiation. Treatment with 17-DMAG decreased the activation of canonical TGF-β signalling in murine models of SSc and exerted potent antifibrotic effects in bleomycin-induced dermal fibrosis, in Tsk-1 mice and in mice overexpressing a constitutively active TβRI. Dermal thickness, number of myofibroblasts and hydroxyproline content were all significantly reduced on treatment with 17-DMAG. No toxic effects were observed with 17-DMAG at antifibrotic doses. CONCLUSIONS: Hsp90 is upregulated in SSc and is critical for TGF-β signalling. Pharmacological inhibition of Hsp90 effectively blocks the profibrotic effects of TGF-β in cultured fibroblasts and in different preclinical models of SSc. These results have translational implications, as several Hsp90 inhibitors are in clinical trials for other indications.

Concepts: Molecular biology, Signal transduction, Collagen, Fibrosis, Chaperone, Heat shock protein, Scleroderma, Systemic scleroderma


OBJECTIVE: To determine survival and causes of death in an unselected and complete cohort of Norwegian patients with systemic sclerosis (SSc) compared to the background population. METHODS: Multiple methods were used to identify every patient with SSc living in southeast Norway, with a denominator population of 2,707,012, between 1999 and 2009. All patients who met either the American College of Rheumatology criteria or the Medsger and LeRoy criteria for SSc were included. Every patient was matched for sex and age with 15 healthy controls drawn from the national population registry. Vital status at January 1, 2010, was provided for patients and controls by the national population registry. Causes of death were obtained from death certificates and by chart review. RESULTS: Forty-three (14%) of 312 patients with SSc died during the study period. The standardized mortality rate (SMR) was estimated to be 2.03 for the entire cohort and 5.33 for the subgroup with diffuse cutaneous (dc) SSc. The 5- and 10-year survival rates were 91% and 70%, respectively, for dcSSc and 98% and 93% for limited cutaneous (lc) SSc. Causes of death were related to SSc in 24/43 (56%) patients, mostly cardiopulmonary diseases (n = 13), including pulmonary hypertension (n = 8). Factors associated with fatal outcome included male sex, dcSSc, pulmonary hypertension, and interstitial lung disease. CONCLUSION: Compared to the Norwegian background population, our cohort of 312 unselected patients with SSc had decreased survival. The survival rates observed were, however, better than those previously reported from SSc referral centers.

Concepts: Epidemiology, Death, Pulmonology, Mortality rate, Demography, Rheumatology, Scleroderma, Systemic scleroderma


BACKGROUND: Skin involvement is of major prognostic value in systemic sclerosis (SSc) and often the primary outcome in clinical trials. Nevertheless, an objective, validated biomarker of skin fibrosis is lacking. Optical coherence tomography (OCT) is an imaging technology providing high-contrast images with 4 μm resolution, comparable with microscopy (‘virtual biopsy’). The present study evaluated OCT to detect and quantify skin fibrosis in SSc. METHODS: We performed 458 OCT scans of hands and forearms on 21 SSc patients and 22 healthy controls. We compared the findings with histology from three skin biopsies and by correlation with clinical assessment of the skin. We calculated the optical density (OD) of the OCT images employing Matlab software and performed statistical analysis of the results, including intraobserver/interobserver reliability, employing SPSS software. RESULTS: Comparison of OCT images with skin histology indicated a progressive loss of visualisation of the dermal-epidermal junction associated with dermal fibrosis. Furthermore, SSc affected skin showed a consistent decrease of OD in the papillary dermis, progressively worse in patients with worse modified Rodnan skin score (p<0.0001). Additionally, clinically unaffected skin was also distinguishable from healthy skin for its specific pattern of OD decrease in the reticular dermis (p<0.001). The technique showed an excellent intraobserver and interobserver reliability (intraclass correlation coefficient >0.8). CONCLUSIONS: OCT of the skin could offer a feasible and reliable quantitative outcome measure in SSc. Studies determining OCT sensitivity to change over time and its role in defining skin vasculopathy may pave the way to defining OCT as a valuable imaging biomarker in SSc.

Concepts: Optics, Biopsy, Skin, Optical coherence tomography, Covariance and correlation, Dermis, Scleroderma, Skin biopsy


We assessed the cutaneous microcirculatory reactivity of a clinically unaffected skin region in patients with systemic sclerosis (SSc) compared to healthy controls by measuring transcutaneous oxygen saturation (TcPO2) and Laser Doppler flowmetry (LDF). Twelve consecutive patients with SSc and twelve healthy controls were subjected to TcPO2 monitoring and LDF during cuff-induced ischemia and reactive hyperemia in order to measure the skin oxygen tension and the microcirculatory blood flow. Mean minimal and maximal values of oxygen tension and blood flow, time to peak (TTP), and declining slopes after peaking (slope) were compared between patients with SSc and controls. Compared to the controls, TcPO2 values in SSc were similar during ischemia and diminished during reactive hyperemia, with shorter TTP, and a slower return to baseline (-60% vs. -58%, p = 1.000, +76% vs. +210%, p = 0.047, 137 s vs. 108 s, p = 0.028, -0.009%/s vs. -0.019%/s, p = 0.021, respectively). LDF values, however, did not differ significantly between patients with SSc and controls. Unaffected skin regions of SSc patients showed a significantly diminished postischemic vasodilatory reactivity when assessed by TcPO2 monitoring, but not by LDF, indicating that vasculopathy may represent an early mechanism in the onset of skin sclerosis. TcPO2 measurement may help to detect changes in the microcirculation in SSc with no skin affection.

Concepts: Oxygen, Measurement, Rheumatology, Skin, Hypoxia, Scleroderma, Systemic scleroderma, Laser Doppler velocimetry


To assess the 2013 American College of Rheumatology/European League Against Rheumatism (ACR/EULAR) Classification Criteria for Systemic Sclerosis (SSc) on defined subgroups of SSc and in mixed connective tissue disease (MCTD) as an SSc-related disease.

Concepts: Blood, Rheumatology, Scleroderma, Systemic scleroderma


To translate and adapt the University of California, Los Angeles Scleroderma Clinical Trial Consortium Gastrointestinal Tract Instrument 2.0 (UCLA SCTC GIT 2.0) into Dutch and validate it among Dutch systemic sclerosis (SSc) patients.

Concepts: Rheumatology, California, Scleroderma, Systemic scleroderma, Mucinoses, University of California, University of California, Los Angeles, Pacific-10 Conference


Raynaud’s phenomenon and digital ulcers (DUs) are frequent among systemic sclerosis (SSc) patients. Our aim was to investigate the diagnostic and predictive value for DU of endothelial dysfunction biomarkers (flow-mediated dilatation (FMD), serum levels of endothelin-1 (ET-1), and ADMA), angiogenic/angiostatic biomarkers (vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), endoglin, and endostatin), and nailfold videocapillaroscopy (NVC). We compared our results with a literature review. In a cohort study of 77 SSc patients, we followed two groups of patients: (i) naïve DU patients (39) and (ii) active DU at baseline (38 patients) for 3 years. Telangiectasia (p < 0.001) and diffuse disease subset (p = 0.001) were significantly more frequent in patients with active DU at enrolment. Additionally, NVC late scleroderma pattern (AUC 0.846, 95%CI 0.760-0.932), lower values of FMD (AUC 0.754, 95%CI 0.643-0.864), increased serum levels of ET-1 (AUC 0.758, 95%CI 0.649-0.866), ADMA (AUC 0.634, 95%CI 0.511-0.757), and endoglin as well as low VEGF serum levels (AUC 0.705, 95%CI 0.579-0.830) were significantly associated to new DU events in the 3-year follow-up. Cox regression analysis showed that FMD > 9.41 % (HR 0.37, 95%CI 0.14-0.99); ET-1 >11.85 pmol/L (HR 3.81, 95%CI 1.41-10.26) and late NVC pattern (HR 2.29, 95%CI 0.97-5.38) were independent predictors of DU recurrence. When estimating the probability of occurrence of first DU in naïve DU patients, only late NVC pattern (HR 12.66, 95%CI 2.06-77.89) was an independent predictor factor. In conclusion, late scleroderma patterns in NVC are the best independent predictors of SSc patients who are at risk of developing DU. Endothelial dysfunction assessed by FMD and ET-1 was also found to be an independent predictor of DU recurrence in a 3-year follow-up.

Concepts: Angiogenesis, Vascular endothelial growth factor, Rheumatology, Endothelium, Scleroderma, Systemic scleroderma, Raynaud's phenomenon, CREST syndrome


Impaired hand function greatly contributes to disability and reduced quality of life in SSc patients. Autologous adipose-derived stromal vascular fraction (ADSVF) is recognized as an easily accessible source of regenerative cells. We reported positive 6-month safety and efficacy results from an open-label clinical trial assessing s.c. injection of autologous ADSVF into the fingers in SSc patients. The objective of this report is to describe the effects at 12 months.

Concepts: Effectiveness, Rheumatology, Disability, Scleroderma, Systemic scleroderma, Accessibility, Disability rights movement, Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990


Systemic sclerosis (SSc) is a rare autoimmune disease with the highest case-fatality rate of all connective tissue diseases. Current efforts to determine patient response to a given treatment using the modified Rodnan skin score (mRSS) are complicated by interclinician variability, confounding, and the time required between sequential mRSS measurements to observe meaningful change. There is an unmet critical need for an objective metric of SSc disease severity. Here, we performed an integrated, multicohort analysis of SSc transcriptome data across 7 datasets from 6 centers composed of 515 samples. Using 158 skin samples from SSc patients and healthy controls recruited at 2 centers as a discovery cohort, we identified a 415-gene expression signature specific for SSc, and validated its ability to distinguish SSc patients from healthy controls in an additional 357 skin samples from 5 independent cohorts. Next, we defined the SSc skin severity score (4S). In every SSc cohort of skin biopsy samples analyzed in our study, 4S correlated significantly with mRSS, allowing objective quantification of SSc disease severity. Using transcriptome data from the largest longitudinal trial of SSc patients to date, we showed that 4S allowed us to objectively monitor individual SSc patients over time, as (a) the change in 4S of a patient is significantly correlated with change in the mRSS, and (b) the change in 4S at 12 months of treatment could predict the change in mRSS at 24 months. Our results suggest that 4S could be used to distinguish treatment responders from nonresponders prior to mRSS change. Our results demonstrate the potential clinical utility of a novel robust molecular signature and a computational approach to SSc disease severity quantification.

Concepts: Epidemiology, Epithelium, Rheumatology, Autoimmune disease, Autoimmune diseases, Connective tissue diseases, Scleroderma, Systemic scleroderma


A 46-year-old woman with a 7-year history of systemic sclerosis treated with methotrexate presented with abdominal pain, persistent nausea, and vomiting of undigested food that had begun 3 months earlier. A barium-swallow examination revealed duodenal distention.

Concepts: Hepatitis, Rheumatoid arthritis, Abdominal pain, Gastroenteritis, Nausea, Scleroderma, Systemic scleroderma