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Francesco Ciccia - Top 30 Publications

Advances in immunopathogenesis of macrophage activation syndrome during rheumatic inflammatory diseases: toward new therapeutic targets?

Macrophage activation syndrome (MAS) is a severe, hyperinflammatory life-threatening syndrome, generally complicating different rheumatic diseases. Despite the severity of the disease, little is known about the pathogenic mechanisms and, thus, possible targeted therapies in the management of these patients. Areas covered: In this review, we aimed to update the current pathogenic knowledge of MAS, during rheumatic diseases, focusing mainly on immunologic abnormalities and on new possible therapeutic strategies. Expert commentary: The difficult pathogenic scenario of MAS, in which genetic defects, predisposing diseases, and triggers are mixed together with the high mortality rate, make it difficult to manage these patients. Although most efforts have been focused on investigating the disease in children, in recent years, several studies are trying to elucidate the possible pathogenic mechanism in adult MAS patients. In this context, genetic and immunological studies might lead to advances in the knowledge of pathogenic mechanisms and possible new therapeutic targets. In the future, the results of ongoing clinical trials are awaited in order to improve the management and, thus, the survival of these patients.

Prevalence of type 2 diabetes and impaired fasting glucose in patients affected by rheumatoid arthritis: Results from a cross-sectional study.

Although the better management of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) has significantly improved the long-term outcome of affected patients, a significant proportion of these may develop associated comorbidities including cardiometabolic complications. However, it must be pointed out that a comprehensive cardiometabolic evaluation is still poorly integrated into the management of RA patients, due to a limited awareness of the problem, a lack of appropriate clinical studies, and optimal strategies for cardiovascular (CV) risk reduction in RA. In addition, although several studies investigated the possible association between traditional CV risk factors and RA, conflicting results are still available.On this basis, we planned this cross-sectional study, aimed at investigating the prevalence of type 2 diabetes (T2D) and impaired fasting glucose (IFG) in RA patients compared with age- and gender- matched control individuals. Furthermore, we analyzed the role of both traditional and RA-related CV risk factors in predicting T2D and IFG.We observed an increased prevalence of T2D in RA patients when compared with age- and gender-matched controls. Regression analyses demonstrated that the presence of high blood pressure (HBP), a longer disease duration, and exposure to corticosteroids (CCS) were significantly associated with an increased likelihood of being classified as T2D. In addition, we observed an increased prevalence of IFG in RA patients when compared with age- and gender-matched controls. Regression analyses demonstrated that a higher body mass index (BMI), the presence of metabolic syndrome (MetS), higher levels of total cholesterol, the presence of radiographic damage, and higher serum levels of C-reactive protein (CRP) were significantly associated with an increased likelihood of presenting IFG.In this cross-sectional study, we observed an increased prevalence of T2D and IFG in an Italian cohort of RA patients when compared with age- and gender-matched control individuals. Interestingly, both RA-specific features, such as disease duration, CCS exposure, and radiographic damage, and traditional CV risk factors, such as HBP and MetS, were significantly associated with glucose metabolism abnormalities.

IL-17 polarization of MAIT cells is derived from the activation of two different pathways.

CD4 T lymphocyte autophagy is upregulated in the salivary glands of primary Sjögren's syndrome patients and correlates with focus score and disease activity.

Primary Sjögren's syndrome (pSS) is a common chronic autoimmune disease characterized by lymphocytic infiltration of exocrine glands and peripheral lymphocyte perturbation. In the current study, we aimed to investigate the possible pathogenic implication of autophagy in T lymphocytes in patients with pSS.

International consensus: What else can we do to improve diagnosis and therapeutic strategies in patients affected by autoimmune rheumatic diseases (rheumatoid arthritis, spondyloarthritides, systemic sclerosis, systemic lupus erythematosus, antiphospholipid syndrome and Sjogren's syndrome)?: The unmet needs and the clinical grey zone in autoimmune disease management.

Autoimmune diseases are a complex set of diseases characterized by immune system activation and, although many progresses have been done in the last 15years, several unmet needs in the management of these patients may be still identified. Recently, a panel of international Experts, divided in different working groups according to their clinical and scientific expertise, were asked to identify, debate and formulate a list of key unmet needs within the field of rheumatology, serving as a roadmap for research as well as support for clinicians. After a systematic review of the literature, the results and the discussions from each working group were summarised in different statements. Due to the differences among the diseases and their heterogeneity, a large number of statements was produced and voted by the Experts to reach a consensus in a plenary session. At all the steps of this process, including the initial discussions by the steering committee, the identification of the unmet needs, the expansion of the working group and finally the development of statements, a large agreement was attained. This work confirmed that several unmet needs may be identified and despite the development of new therapeutic strategies as well as a better understanding of the effects of existing therapies, many open questions still remain in this field, suggesting a research agenda for the future and specific clinical suggestions which may allow physicians to better manage those clinical conditions still lacking of scientific clarity.

Response to: 'Artery tertiary lymphoid organs in giant cell arteritis are not exclusively located in the media of temporal arteries' by Graver et al.

Macrophage Migration Inhibitory Factor Induces Inflammation and Predicts Spinal Progression in Ankylosing Spondylitis.

To investigate the role of macrophage migration inhibitory factor (MIF) in the pathogenesis of ankylosing spondylitis (AS).

Pharmacological stress, rest perfusion and delayed enhancement cardiac magnetic resonance identifies a very early cardiac involvement in systemic sclerosis patients of recent onset.

To evaluate occult cardiac involvement in asymptomatic systemic sclerosis (SSc) patients by pharmacological stress, rest perfusion and delayed enhancement cardiac magnetic resonance (CMR), for a very early identification of patients at higher risk of cardiac-related mortality.

Psoriatic Arthritis.

New insights into the pathogenesis of giant cell arteritis.

Giant cell arteritis (GCA) is an inflammatory chronic disease occurring exclusively in elderly individuals. Until recently, the disease has been considered a unique disease resulting from the interaction in the walls of susceptible arteries, between an unknown infectious agents with local dendritic cells (DCs), activated CD4 T cells and effector macrophages. Recent evidence has shown that this view was too simplistic and has clarified many of the pathogenetic aspects of the disease. Many genetic studies recently published have identified different new genes, including cytokines, adhesion molecules and regulators of innate immunity, as crucial players in the development and progression of GCA. Recent evidence suggests that there is heterogeneity of histological lesions in GCA, that are correlated with different immunological Th9 and Th17 signature. The recent demonstration that Varicella-zoster virus (VZV) antigen is present in the 64% of GCA-negative TAs and in the 73% of GCA-positive TAs could represent an important point of arrival in the search for a causative agent in the pathogenesis of a metameric disease such as GCA. In this context, cytokines such as IL-32 and IL-33 that act as a danger signal following tissue damage and infection are over-expressed in GCA arteries. Artery tertiary lymphoid organs, present in up to 50% of GCA-positive arteries, could represent the sites were primary immune responses and T- and B-cell autoimmune responses against viral antigens are organized. The recently demonstrated disturbed distribution of B cells in GCA could be also relevant in the pathogenesis of the disease, possibly contributing to the enhanced IL-6 response. Altogether, these evidences may clarify many pathogenetic aspect of the disease, also suggesting complexity greater than first imagined.

Clinical benefit of vedolizumab on articular manifestations in patients with active spondyloarthritis associated with inflammatory bowel disease.

Dysbiosis and zonulin upregulation alter gut epithelial and vascular barriers in patients with ankylosing spondylitis.

Dysbiosis has been recently demonstrated in patients with ankylosing spondylitis (AS) but its implications in the modulation of intestinal immune responses have never been studied. The aim of this study was to investigate the role of ileal bacteria in modulating local and systemic immune responses in AS.

Interstitial lung disease in systemic sclerosis: current and future treatment.

Systemic sclerosis (SSc) has the highest fatality rate among connective tissue diseases and is characterized by vascular damage, inflammation and fibrosis of the skin and various internal organs. Interstitial lung disease (ILD) frequently complicates SSc and can be a debilitating disorder with a poor prognosis. ILD is the most frequent cause of death in SSc, and the management of SSc-ILD patients is a great challenge. Early detection of pulmonary involvement based on a recent decline of lung function tests and on the extent of lung involvement at high-resolution computed tomography is critical for the best management of these patients. This article summarizes classification, pathogenesis, diagnosis, prognosis, survival and finally current and future treatment options in SSc-ILD.

Brief Report: Functional Interaction of Endoplasmic Reticulum Aminopeptidase 2 and HLA-B27 Activates the Unfolded Protein Response.

The basic mechanisms underlying the pathogenesis of ankylosing spondylitis (AS) remain unresolved. We previously reported an association of the single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) rs2549782 in the endoplasmic reticulum aminopeptidase 2 gene (ERAP2) with AS. It is known that patients homozygous for the G allele (GG) of another ERAP2 SNP, rs2248374, lack expression of ERAP2 (ERAP2 null). The present study utilized this information to study the impact of ERAP2 deficiency on HLA-B27 expression in patients with AS, specifically focusing on the functional interaction of ERAP2 and HLA-B27 in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) from patients with AS and assessing the effects in vitro in specific cell lines.

The role of the gastrointestinal tract in the pathogenesis of rheumatic diseases.

Dysregulation of the intestinal epithelial barrier in genetically susceptible individuals may lead to both intestinal and extraintestinal autoimmune disorders. There is emerging literature on the role of microbiota changes in the pathogenesis of systemic rheumatic diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, spondyloarthropathies, and connective tissue diseases. Although the role of the gastrointestinal tract in the pathogenesis of spondyloartropathies is well defined and many studies underline the importance of gastrointestinal inflammation in modulating local and systemic inflammation, the data are inconclusive regarding the effect of dysbiosis on rheumatoid arthritis and connective tissue diseases. This review aims to summarize current data on the role of the gastrointestinal involvement and intestinal microbiota in the pathogenesis of systemic rheumatic disease.

Adult-onset Still's disease: evaluation of prognostic tools and validation of the systemic score by analysis of 100 cases from three centers.

Adult-onset Still's disease (AOSD) is rare inflammatory disease of unknown etiology that usually affects young adults. The more common clinical manifestations are spiking fevers, arthritis, evanescent rash, elevated liver enzymes, lymphadenopathy, hepatosplenomegaly, and serositis. The multi-visceral involvement of the disease and the different complications, such as macrophage activation syndrome, may strongly decrease the life expectancy of AOSD patients.

Reply.

Endothelial progenitor cells: Are they displaying a function in autoimmune disorders?

Endothelial Progenitor Cells (EPCs) are bone marrow derived cells able to differentiate in mature endothelial cells (EC) contributing to the generation of new vessels, connecting to fibronectin, and forming colonies and/or colony forming units. Since circulating EPCs can be actively considered part of endothelial damage in several cardiovascular diseases and autoimmune disorders the possibility to have a measure for endothelium damage should be considered of interest to predict the patient out-come. At the same time the EPCs proliferative and regenerative role could be considered for therapeutic applications. Studies have been performed to elucidate the role of EPCs in Systemic Sclerosis and many review and articles published on this topic. In the present paper we aimed to review the role of EPCs in other autoimmune disorders.

Prognostic factors of macrophage activation syndrome, at the time of diagnosis, in adult patients affected by autoimmune disease: Analysis of 41 cases collected in 2 rheumatologic centers.

Macrophage activation syndrome (MAS) is a rare, life-threatening disease in which early diagnosis and aggressive therapeutic strategy may improve the outcome. Due to its rarity, epidemiologic data are still lacking. Hyperferritinemia is frequently associated with MAS and might modulate the cytokine storm, which is involved in the development of multiple organ failure. In this paper, we investigated clinical data, treatments, and outcome of a homogeneous cohort of 41 adult MAS patients, complicating autoimmune rheumatic diseases. MAS-related death occurred in 17 patients (42.5%) during the follow-up, and older age and increased serum ferritin levels, at the time of diagnosis, were significantly associated with mortality. In conclusion, adult MAS is associated with high mortality rate. Some clinical features at diagnosis may be predictive of MAS-associated death.

Clinical efficacy of α4 integrin block with natalizumab in ankylosing spondylitis.

Perivascular Cells in Diffuse Cutaneous Systemic Sclerosis Overexpress Activated ADAM12 and Are Involved in Myofibroblast Transdifferentiation and Development of Fibrosis.

Microvascular damage is pivotal in the pathogenesis of systemic sclerosis (SSc), preceding fibrosis, and whose trigger is not still fully understood. Perivascular progenitor cells, with profibrotic activity and function, are identified by the expression of the isoform 12 of ADAM (ADAM12) and this molecule may be upregulated by transforming growth factor-β (TGF-β). The goal of this work was to evaluate whether pericytes in the skin of patients with diffuse cutaneous SSc (dcSSc) expressed ADAM12, suggesting their potential contribution to the fibrotic process, and whether TGF-β might modulate this molecule.

Intestinal dysbiosis and innate immune responses in axial spondyloarthritis.

Inflammatory innate and adaptive immune cell responses to commensal bacteria underlie the pathogenesis of human chronic inflammatory diseases. Intestinal dysbiosis has been described in patients with spondyloarthritis (SpA) and seems to be correlated with histologic and immunologic alterations. Purpose of this review is to discuss the relationship occurring between intestinal dysbiosis and innate immune responses in patients with axial SpA.

Adult-onset Still's disease: an Italian multicentre retrospective observational study of manifestations and treatments in 245 patients.

Adult-onset Still's disease (AOSD) is a systemic inflammatory condition of unknown aetiology characterized by typical episodes of spiking fever, evanescent rash, arthralgia, leukocytosis and hyperferritinemia. Given the lack of data in Italian series, we promote a multicentric data collection to characterize the clinical phenotype of Italian patients with AOSD. Data from 245 subjects diagnosed with AOSD were collected by 15 centres between March and May 2013. The diagnosis was made following Yamaguchi's criteria. Data regarding clinical manifestations, laboratory features, disease course and treatments were reported and compared with those presented in other published series of different ethnicity. The most frequent features were the following: arthritis (93 %), pyrexia (92.6 %), leukocytosis (89 %), negative ANA (90.4 %) and neutrophilia (82 %). As compared to other North American, North European, Middle Eastern and Far Eastern cohorts, Italian data show differences in clinical and laboratory findings. Regarding the treatments, in 21.9 % of cases, corticosteroids and traditional DMARDs have not been able to control the disease while biologics have been shown to be effective in 48 to 58 patients. This retrospective work summarizes the largest Italian multicentre series of AOSD patients and presents clinical and laboratory features that appear to be influenced by the ethnicity of the affected subjects.

Ectopic expression of CXCL13, BAFF, APRIL and LT-β is associated with artery tertiary lymphoid organs in giant cell arteritis.

To investigate whether artery tertiary lymphoid organs (ATLOs) are present in giant cell arteritis (GCA) and that their formation is associated with the ectopic expression of constitutive lymphoid tissue-homing chemokines.

Autophagy in the pathogenesis of ankylosing spondylitis.

The pathogenesis of ankylosing spondylitis (AS) is not well understood, and treatment options have met with limited success. Autophagy is a highly conserved mechanism of controlled digestion of damaged organelles within a cell. It helps in the maintenance of cellular homeostasis. The process of autophagy requires the formation of an isolation membrane. They form double-membraned vesicles called "autophagosomes" that engulf a portion of the cytoplasm. Beyond the role in maintenance of cellular homeostasis, autophagy has been demonstrated as one of the most remarkable tools employed by the host cellular defense against bacteria invasion. Autophagy also affects the immune system and thus is implicated in several rheumatic disease processes. In this article, we explore the potential role of autophagy in the pathogenesis of AS.

Non-conventional forms of HLA-B27 are expressed in spondyloarthritis joints and gut tissue.

Human leukocyte antigen (HLA)-B27 (B27) is the strongest genetic factor associated with development of Ankylosing Spondylitis and other spondyloarthropathies (SpA), yet the role it plays in disease pathogenesis remains unclear. We investigated the expression of potentially pathogenic non-conventional heavy chain forms (NC) of B27 in synovial and intestinal tissues obtained from SpA patients. We also determined the presence of NC-B27 in joints, lymphoid and gastrointestinal tissue from B27 transgenic (TG(1)) rats with M.tuberculosis-induced SpA.

IL-1β at the crossroad between rheumatoid arthritis and type 2 diabetes: may we kill two birds with one stone?

Although in the past the prevention of joint destruction in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) was strongly emphasized, now a great interest is focused on associated comorbidities in these patients. Multiple data suggest that a large percentage of RA patients are affected by Type 2 Diabetes (T2D), whose incidence has reached epidemic levels in recent years, thus increasing the health care costs. A better knowledge about the pathogenesis of these diseases as well as the mechanisms of action of drugs may allow both policy designers and physicians to choose the most effective treatments, thus lowering the costs. This review will focus on the role of Interleukin (IL)-1β in the pathogenesis of both the diseases, the efficacy of IL-1 blocking molecules in controlling these diseases, and will provide information suggesting that targeting IL-1β, in patients affected by both RA and T2D, may be a promising therapeutic choice.

Interleukin-9 Overexpression and Th9 Polarization Characterize the Inflamed Gut, the Synovial Tissue, and the Peripheral Blood of Patients With Psoriatic Arthritis.

To investigate the expression and tissue distribution of Th9-related cytokines in patients with psoriatic arthritis (PsA).

Safety and efficacy of intra-articular anti-tumor necrosis factor α agents compared to corticosteroids in a treat-to-target strategy in patients with inflammatory arthritis and monoarthritis flare.

The aim of this study was to assess safety and efficacy of ultrasonography (US)-guided intra-articular injections using tumor necrosis factor (TNF) blockers compared to corticosteroids in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) or psoriatic arthritis (PsA) patients, experiencing refractory monoarthritis despite the current systemic therapy. Eighty-two patients were randomized to receive three intra-articular injections monthly of either corticosteroid or TNF blockers. Primary endpoints were the safety and an improvement greater than 20% for visual analogic scales of involved joint pain in patients injected with anti-TNFα. Further clinical, US, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) evaluations were considered secondary endpoints. Intra-articular TNF blockers are a safe strategy, determining a significant reduction of patient and physician reported clinical outcomes and US/MRI scores, in RA and PsA patients, when compared to intra-articular injections of corticosteroids. US guidance excluded the possibility to inject the drug in the wrong site, maximizing local effects, reducing systemic effects, and increasing the safety of the procedure. Patients with inflammatory monoarthritis could be successfully treated with US-guided intra-articular TNF blockers that are a safe and well tolerated procedure, to achieve a longstanding clinical and radiological good clinical response and/or disease remission.

Invariant NKT cells are expanded in peripheral blood but are undetectable in salivary glands of patients with primary Sjögren's syndrome.

Invariant NKT (iNKT) cells play a role in regulating the function of autoreactive B cells before their entry into germinal centres. Absence and/or reduction of iNKT cells have been demonstrated in patients with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) together with an increase of autoreactive B cell activity. Primary Sjögren's syndrome (pSS) is a systemic autoimmune disease in which lymphocyte infiltration and organisation in lymphoid structures of inflamed salivary glands occurs. The aim of the study was to investigate the percentage and function of iNKT in the salivary glands and peripheral blood of patients with pSS.