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Serum antibodies to collagen XIII: a further good marker of active Graves' ophthalmopathy.

OBJECTIVE: In Graves' ophthalmopathy (GO) intercellular adhesion molecule-1 (ICAM-1) is thought to play a key role in lymphocyte infiltration into the orbit, and serum levels of its soluble form are positively correlated to clinical activity score (CAS). Serum antibodies against collagen XIII (CollXIIIAb), a plasma membrane protein expressed at a low level in almost all connective tissue-producing cells, have been detected in GO, but their significance is unclear. The aim of this study was to search for CollXIIIAb in Graves' patients with and without ophthalmopathy and to correlate their levels with CAS and with serum soluble ICAM-1 (sICAM-1) values.

PATIENTS: We studied 66 patients with Graves' disease whose sera had been previously tested for sICAM-1 levels, grouped as follows: 28 with moderate and active ophthalmopathy (group 1), 12 of them hyperthyroid (group 1a) and 16 euthyroid (group 1b); 13 with mild and inactive ophthalmopathy and normal thyroid function (group 2); 25 without ophthalmopathy (group 3), 11 of them hyperthyroid (group 3a) and 14 euthyroid (group 3b). Finally, 26 sera of normal controls were studied.

MEASUREMENTS: CollXIIIAb were evaluated by an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) method.

RESULTS: In group 1 patients, CollXIIIAb were detected at high levels in 8/12 (66.6%) in group 1a [optical density (OD) ranging from 0.529 to 0.894] and in 10/16 (62.5%) in group 1b (OD 0.560-0.855). In group 2 patients, CollXIIIAb were detected but at low levels (OD 0.205-0.260) in 4/13 patients (30.7%). In group 3 patients, CollXIIIAb were present at low levels in 6/11 (54.5%) of group 3a and in 5/14 (35.7%) of group 3b (OD 0.215-0.290 and 0.144-0.245, respectively). CollXIIIAb were detected in only 4/26 normal controls (15%) but at low levels (OD 0.150-0.185). CollXIIIAb values in both groups 1a and 1b were significantly higher than those of the remaining groups. A positive correlation between CollXIIIAb levels and CAS but not thyroid hormone levels was found in groups 1a, 1b and 2. Moreover, a positive correlation between CollXIIIAb levels and sICAM-1-values was also evidenced in all three groups.

CONCLUSIONS: Our results suggest that CollXIIIAb could be considered as a further good marker of active inflammatory processes involving the adipose connective tissue in GO. In particular, the high levels of CollXIIIAb in sera of Graves' patients with active ophthalmopathy could reflect an increased expression of type XIII collagen on the membrane of activated fibroblasts in these patients. Thus, the evaluation of these antibodies could be added to other known markers as a useful and inexpensive tool in monitoring Graves' patients and in modulating the treatment of GO.

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