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Irene Campi, Guia Vannucchi and Mario Salvi

Management of Graves’ orbitopathy (GO) must be based on the correct assessment of activity and severity of the disease. Activity is usually assessed with the Clinical Activity Score, whereas severity is classified according to a European Group On Graves' Orbitopathy (EUGOGO) consensus statement as mild, moderate-to-severe, and sight-threatening. Myopathic and chronic congestive forms are uncommon clinical presentations of GO. Restoration and maintenance of stable euthyroidism are recommended in the presence of GO.

In moderate-to-severe disease, steroids have been widely employed and have shown to possess an anti-inflammatory activity, but about 20–30% of patients are not responsive and present recurrence. Some novel immunosuppressors have already been employed in clinical studies and have shown interesting results, although the lack of randomized and controlled trials suggests caution for their use in clinical practice. Potential targets for therapy in GO are the thyroid-stimulating hormone and the insulin-like growth factor 1 receptor on the fibroblasts, inflammatory cytokines, B and T cells, and the PIK3/mTORC1 signaling cascades for adipogenesis. A recent open study has shown that tocilizumab, an anti-sIL-6R antibody, inactivates GO. Consistent reports on the efficacy of rituximab have recently been challenged by randomized controlled trials.

As the main goal of treatment is the well-being of the patient, the therapeutic strategy should be addressed to better suit the patient needs, more than improving one or more biological parameters. The increasing availability of new therapies will expand the therapeutic options for GO patients and allow the clinician to really personalize the treatment to better suit the patients’ personal needs.

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Guia Vannucchi, Danila Covelli, Irene Campi, Daniele Origo, Nicola Currò, Valentina Cirello, Davide Dazzi, Paolo Beck-Peccoz and Mario Salvi

Background

Glucocorticoids are the mainstay of immunosuppression for active moderate–severe Graves' orbitopathy (GO).

Aim

To analyze the response to therapy and the contribution of glucocorticoid receptor (GR) gene polymorphisms to the therapeutic outcome of intravenous glucocorticoids (IVGC) in active moderate–severe GO.

Methods

We have studied 58 patients treated with 7.5 g i.v. methylprednisolone (cumulative dose). Ophthalmological assessment was performed at baseline and at 6–8, 12–16, and 24–30 weeks after the first infusion. Three GR gene polymorphisms, ER22/23EK, N363S, and BCL1, which have been associated to variable sensitivity to steroids, were studied in 43/58 patients. The therapeutic outcomes defined as: i) reduction of the clinical activity score (CAS) ≥2 points or ii) reduction of proptosis ≥2 mm or iii) improvement of diplopia according to the Gorman score were also studied in relation to treatment schedule, age, gender, duration of thyroid or GO, smoking habits, and serum TSH-receptor autoantibodies levels.

Results

In total, 70% of patients responded and had GO inactivation (CAS <4) as early as 6–8 weeks. At 12–16 weeks, the proportion of patients who became inactive increased by another 10% up to a total of 80%. ER22/23EK and N363S polymorphisms were present only in about 7%, while the Bcl1 variant was present in 30% of patients; no significant association of any of the GR polymorphisms with either the therapeutic response or the occurrence of side effects was observed.

Conclusions

Most patients with active GO respond to IVGC as early as 6–8 weeks of therapy and the analyzed GR polymorphisms do not influence the therapeutic effect of steroids. Questions arise about the need of continuing therapy up to 12 weeks in nonresponders. We suggest that these patients may be switched to other treatments alone or in combination with steroids.

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Mario Salvi, Guia Vannucchi, Irene Campi, Stefania Rossi, Paola Bonara, Francesco Sbrozzi, Claudio Guastella, Sabrina Avignone, Giacinta Pirola, Roberto Ratiglia and Paolo Beck-Peccoz

One patient with Graves’ hyperthyroidism and ophthalmopathy in its active phase and unresponsive to steroid, was treated with the anti-CD20 monoclonal antibody, rituximab (RTX), as part of an open study. The effect of RTX in the thyroid and the orbital tissues was studied. The ophthalmopathy responded to RTX therapy by ameliorating the eye signs with a decrease in the clinical activity score from 5 to 2 in 3 months, while the patient had peripheral B-cell depletion. Hyperthyroidism did not improve during the 6 months of B-cell depletion and serum TSH-receptor antibodies (TRAb) levels did not significantly change after RTX therapy. Therefore, the patient underwent total thyroidectomy and few B-cells were found in the thyroid tissue specimens. While the patient eye disease remained stable (clinical activity score = 2), we performed corrective orbital decompression and we found absence of lymphocytes in the orbital tissue specimens. We believe that RTX treatment in Graves’ disease may cause amelioration of ophthalmopathy by depleting total lymphocytes population in the orbit. The persistence of Graves’ hyperthyroidism suggests that a single cycle of RTX does not result in complete lymphocyte depletion in thyroid tissue and thus no decline in serum TRAb was observed.

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Valentina Cirello, Roberta Rizzo, Milena Crippa, Irene Campi, Daria Bortolotti, Silvia Bolzani, Carla Colombo, Guia Vannucchi, Maria Antonia Maffini, Federica de Liso, Stefano Ferrero, Palma Finelli and Laura Fugazzola

Objective

The physiological persistence of fetal cells in the circulation and tissue of a previously pregnant woman is called fetal cell microchimerism (FCM). It has been hypothesized to play a role in systemic autoimmune disease; however, only limited data are available regarding its role in autoimmune thyroid disease (AITD).

Design

Circulating FCM was analyzed in a large series of previously pregnant women with Graves' disease (GD), Hashimoto's thyroiditis (HT), or no disease (healthy controls (HCs)). To exclude the possible bias related to placental factors, the polymorphic pattern of human leukocyte antigen-G (HLA-G) gene, which is known to be involved in the tolerance of fetal cells by the maternal immune system, was investigated.

Methods

FCM was evaluated by PCR in the peripheral blood, and the Y chromosome was identified by fluorescence in situ hybridization in some GD tissues. HLA-G polymorphism typing was assessed by real-time PCR.

Results

FCM was significantly more frequent in HC (63.6%) than in GD (33.3%) or HT (27.8%) women (P=0.0004 and P=0.001 respectively). A quantitative analysis confirmed that circulating male DNA was more abundant in HC than it was in GD or HT. Microchimeric cells were documented in vessels and in thyroid follicles. In neither GD/HT patients nor HC women was the HLA-G typing different between FCM-positive and FCM-negative cases.

Conclusion

The higher prevalence of FCM in HC as compared to GD and HT patients suggests that it plays a possible protective role in autoimmune thyroid disorders. Placental factors have been excluded as determinants of the differences found. The vascular and tissue localization of microchimeric cells further highlights the ability of those cells to migrate to damaged tissues.

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Irene Campi, Giovanni B Perego, Antonella Ravogli, Antonella Groppelli, Gianfranco Parati, Luca Persani and Laura Fugazzola

Objectives

Amiodarone-induced thyrotoxicosis (AIT) affects up to 3% of treated patients. Type 2 AIT (AIT2) is a destructive thyroiditis and is usually treated with medium-high oral doses of prednisone. As AIT may worsen the underlying heart disease, a rapid control of thyroid function is desirable. We aimed to determine whether a combined intravenous methylprednisolone (IVMP) pulses therapy associated to prednisone in the interpulse period can represent an efficient and safe alternative to urgent total thyroidectomy in patients with AIT2 not responsive to prednisone alone.

Design and methods

Patients presenting with a severe AIT2 studied in a tertiary referral Center from August 2018 to April 2019. We included four patients requiring a rapid improvement of thyroid function for their underlying cardiac disorders. The baseline doses of oral prednisone (range: 5–12.5 mg/day) and IVMP (range: 250–500 twice a week) were determined according to the severity of the thyrotoxicosis and were titrated based on clinical response.

Results

Combined treatment was effective in all patients in the prompt restoration of euthyroidism and no major adverse events were reported during the follow-up. In all cases, FT4 and FT3 levels normalized at 3–5 weeks of treatment. A permanent hypothyroidism was observed in one patient, 3 months after the discontinuation of treatment.

Conclusions

We report for the first time that the combined intravenous and oral steroid therapy is effective in patients with AIT2. The treatment is well tolerated and leads to a rapid improvement of thyroid function, avoiding urgent total thyroidectomy and favoring a quick functional recovery and rehabilitation of cardiac patients.

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Mario Salvi, Guia Vannucchi, Irene Campi, Nicola Currò, Davide Dazzi, Simona Simonetta, Paola Bonara, Stefania Rossi, Clara Sina, Claudio Guastella, Roberto Ratiglia and Paolo Beck-Peccoz

Introduction: Hyperthyroid Graves’ disease (GD) is a B-cell-mediated condition caused by TSH receptor antibodies (TRAb), which decline when GD remits. Anti-CD20 monoclonal antibody rituximab (RTX) induces transient B-cell depletion that may potentially modify the active inflammatory phase of thyroid-associated ophthalmopathy (TAO).

Methods: Nine patients with GD, (seven with active TAO, two with mild lid signs) were studied. The trial was only approved as an open pilot study; thus we compared the effect of RTX therapy to that of i.v. glucocorticoids (IVGC) in 20 consecutive patients. Patients were treated with RTX (1000 mg i.v. twice at 2-week interval) or with IVGC (500 mg i.v. for 16 weeks). TAO was assessed by the clinical activity score (CAS) and severity was classified using NOSPECS (No signs or symptoms; Only signs (lid); Soft tissue involvement; Proptosis, Extraocular muscle involvement; Corneal involvement; Sight loss). Thyroid function and lymphocyte count were measured by standardized methods.

Results: All patients attained peripheral B-cell depletion with the first RTX infusion. Minor side effects were reported in three patients. Thyroid function was not affected by RTX therapy and hyperthyroid patients required therapy with methimazole. After RTX, the changes in the levels of thyroglobulin antibodies, thyroperoxidase antibodies and TRAb were neither significant nor correlated with CD20+ depletion (P = NS). CAS values before RTX were 4.7 ± 0.5 and decreased to 1.8 ± 0.8 at the end of follow-up (P < 0.0001) and more significantly compared with IVGC (P < 0.05). Proptosis decreased significantly after RTX both in patients with active TAO (ANOVA; P < 0.0001) and those with lid signs (ANOVA; P < 0.003). The degree of inflammation (class 2) decreased significantly in response to RTX (ANOVA; P < 0.001). Relapse of active TAO was not observed in patients treated with RTX, but occurred in 10% of those treated with IVGC, who also experienced adverse effects more frequently (45 vs 33% of patients).

Conclusions: RTX positively affects the clinical course of TAO, independently of either thyroid function or circulating antithyroid antibodies, including TRAb. If our findings are confirmed in large controlled studies, RTX may represent a useful therapeutic tool in patients with active TAO.