Mixed Connective-Tissue Disease

Mixed Connective-Tissue Disease

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Mixed connective-tissue disease (MCTD) was first recognized by Sharp and colleagues (1972) in a group of patients with overlapping clinical features of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), scleroderma, and myositis, with the presence of a distinctive antibody against what now is known to be U1-ribonucleoprotein (RNP). [1, 2]

MCTD has since been more completely characterized and is now recognized to consist of the following core clinical and laboratory features [3, 4] :

Nevertheless, whether MCTD is a distinct disease entity has been in question since shortly after its original description. A minority of authors continue to suggest that MCTD represents subgroups or early stages of disorders such as systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) or systemic sclerosis, or an overlap syndrome. [6] Ciang and colleagues propose that MCTD would more accurately be termed undifferentiated autoimmune rheumatic disease. [7]

Pathophysiologic abnormalities that are believed to play a role in MCTD include the following:

In a study of a nationwide MCTD cohort in Norway, Flåm and colleagues found that HLA-B*08 and DRB1*04:01 were risk alleles for MCTD, while DRB1*04:04, DRB1*13:01 and DRB1*13:02 were protective. Risk alleles for SLE, systemic sclerosis, and polymyositis/dermatomyositis were distinct from those for MCTD. [9]

Over time, some patients with MCTD also develop anti-Sm autoantibodies—an expansion of the autoimmune response known as epitope spreading. Escolà-Vergé reported that epitope spreading occurred in 13 (43%) of 40 patients with MCTD, mainly during the first 2 years after diagnosis.Compared with patients who did not have epitope spreading, patients Patients with epitope spreading had  significantly lower prevalence of skin sclerosis (0% vs. 44%, P = 0.004) and a higher prevalence of interstitial lung disease (46% vs. 15%, P = 0.05). [10]

The fundamental cause of MCTD remains unknown. Autoimmunity to components of the U1-70 kd snRNP is a hallmark of disease. Anti-RNP antibodies can precede overt clinical manifestations of MCTD, but overt disease generally develops within 1 year of anti-RNP antibody induction.

The loss of T-lymphocyte and B-lymphocyte tolerance, due to cryptic self-antigens, abnormalities of apoptosis, or molecular mimicry by infectious agents, and driven by U1-RNA-induced innate immune responses, are proposed current theories of pathogenesis.

A population-based study from Olmsted County, Minnesota found that MCTD occurred in about 2 persons per 100,000 per year. Diagnosis was frequently delayed, with a median of 3.6 years elapsing from first symptom to fulfillment of diagnostic criteria. [11] A study in American Indian and Alaska Native adults found a  prevalence of 6.4 per 100,000 (95% confidence interval 2.8-12.8). [12]

In an epidemiological survey in Japan, MCTD has a reported prevalence of 2.7 cases per 100,000 population. [13] A population-based study in Norway found the point prevalence rate to be 3.8 cases per 100,000 adult population, with a female-to-male ratio of 3.3, and an annual incidence rate of  2.1 per million. [14]  

Long-term outcome studies have established pulmonary hypertension as the most common disease-related cause of death. [15] Immunoglobulin G (IgG) anticardiolipin antibodies are a marker for development of pulmonary hypertension. Infections are also a major cause of death.

Cardiac disease, most often pericarditis, is also common in MCTD patients, with prevalence estimates ranging from 13% to 65%. Other cardiac abnormalities include conduction abnormalities, pericardial effusion, mitral valve prolapse, diastolic dysfunction, and accelerated atherosclerosis. In three prospective studies with 13-15 years of follow-up, MCTD patients had an overall mortality rate of 10.4%, and 20% of these deaths were directly attributable to cardiac causes. [16]

MCTD has been reported in all races. The clinical manifestations of MCTD are similar among various ethnic groups; however, one study observed ethnic differences in the frequency of end-organ involvement. [17]

MCTD is far more common in females than in males. Estimates of the female-to-male ratio vary from approximately 3:1 to 16:1. [14, 13]

The onset of MCTD is typically at 15-25 years of age, but can occur at any age.

Most patients with MCTD have a favorable outcome. Cases of MCTD with typical clinical or serologic features occasionally evolve into scleroderma, SLE, or another rheumatic disease.

Pulmonary hypertension is the most common disease-associated cause of death. Careful monitoring and aggressive treatment may improve the outcome of pulmonary hypertension. 

A long-term observational nationwide cohort study from Norway found that interstitial lung disease (ILD) was present in 41% of MCTD patients and progressed in 19% of patients across the observation period of a mean of 6.4 years. [18] The following were the strongest predictors of ILD progression:


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Eric L Greidinger, MD Associate Professor, Department of Medicine, Division of Rheumatology and Immunology, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, Miami Veterans Affairs Medical Center

Eric L Greidinger, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Physicians, American College of Rheumatology

Disclosure: Received research grant from: Reatta Pharmacueticals.

Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD Adjunct Assistant Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Received salary from Medscape for employment. for: Medscape.

Elliot Goldberg, MD Dean of the Western Pennsylvania Clinical Campus, Professor, Department of Medicine, Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University

Elliot Goldberg, MD is a member of the following medical societies: Alpha Omega Alpha, American College of Physicians, American College of Rheumatology

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Herbert S Diamond, MD Visiting Professor of Medicine, Division of Rheumatology, State University of New York Downstate Medical Center; Chairman Emeritus, Department of Internal Medicine, Western Pennsylvania Hospital

Herbert S Diamond, MD is a member of the following medical societies: Alpha Omega Alpha, American College of Physicians, American College of Rheumatology, American Medical Association, Phi Beta Kappa

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Bryan L Martin, DO Associate Dean for Graduate Medical Education, Designated Institutional Official, Associate Medical Director, Director, Allergy Immunology Program, Professor of Medicine and Pediatrics, Ohio State University College of Medicine

Bryan L Martin, DO is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology, American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, American College of Osteopathic Internists, American College of Physicians, American Medical Association, American Osteopathic Association

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Robert W Hoffman, DO, FACP, FACR Chief, Division of Rheumatology and Immunology, Professor, Departments of Medicine and Microbiology & Immunology, University of Miami, Leonard M Miller School of Medicine

Robert W Hoffman, DO, FACP, FACR is a member of the following medical societies: American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Association of Immunologists, American College of Physicians, American College of Rheumatology, and Clinical Immunology Society

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Mixed Connective-Tissue Disease

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