Histologic Healing and IBD Outcomes

Several recent studies recently evaluated outcomes based on histologic healing compared to endoscopic remission.

RK Pai et al. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol 2020; 18: 2510-2517. Full text link: Complete Resolution of Mucosal Neutrophils Associates With Improved Long-Term Clinical Outcomes of Patients With Ulcerative Colitis n=281.Key findings:

  • “We found histologic evidence of UC activity (Geboes score ≥ 2B.1) in biopsies from 182 patients (65%) and endoscopic evidence of UC activity in 149 patients (53%) (substantial agreement, κ = 0.60).”
  • “Histologic features of UC activity were associated with increased rates of systemic corticosteroid use, colectomy, and hospitalization in the entire cohort (P < .05 for all) and associated with increased rates of systemic corticosteroid use in an analysis limited to patients in endoscopic remission (P < .001).”

B Christensen et al. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol 2020; 18: 2518-2525. Full text link: Histologic Healing Is More Strongly Associated with Clinical Outcomes in Ileal Crohn’s Disease than Endoscopic Healing This was a a retrospective study of 101 patients with CD (52% male) isolated to the terminal ileum. Key findings:

  • At ileo-colonoscopy, 63% of patients had endoscopic healing and 55% had histologic evidence of healing. The level of agreement between endoscopic and histologic activity was fair (62%, K = 0.2250, P = .0064)
  • On multivariate analysis, only histologic healing was associated with decreased risk of clinical relapse (hazard ratio [HR], 2.05; 95% CI, 1.07–3.94; P = .031), medication escalation (HR, 2.17; 95% CI, 1.2–3.96; P = .011), and corticosteroid use (HR, 2.44; 95% CI, 1.17–5.09; P = .018).
Kaplan-Meier analysis of effect of endoscopic and histologic activity on (A) clinical relapse-free survival versus histologic healing, (B) clinical relapse-free survival versus endoscopic healing

D Kevans et al. Inflamm Bowel Dis 2020; 26: 1722-1729. Histological Markers of Clinical Relapse in Endoscopically Quiescent Ulcerative Colitis Key finding: In endoscopically quiescent UC (n=76), active histological inflammation …[is] adjunctive histological marker associated with increased likelihood of disease relapse. The associated editorial (1730-32 by Asher Kornbluth) quotes Voltaire: “A wise Italian says that the best is the enemy of the good.” He notes that there is “a very real risk of abandoning an effective drug while chasing the goal of some yet to be universally defined histologic remission.” Currently organizational guidelines (ACG, AGA, ECCO, IOIBD) do NOT suggest the use of histologic normalization as an endpoint at this point.

My take: These studies show that histologic healing in ileal Crohn’s disease and in ulcerative colitis are associated with better outcomes that endoscopic appearance. However, there are a lot questions because many patients, possibly a majority, will not achieve histologic healing despite aggressive treatment. Related technical issues include how many biopsies are needed to assess histology and having a validated histologic assessment.

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Eosinophilic Esophagitis: the Limits of “Clinical Remission”

Among patients with eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE), two issues are particularly vexing for families:

  • The recommendation to use endoscopy to assess response to treatment.
  • Using proton pump inhibitor (PPI) therapy as first line treatment when other therapies have higher response rates

To some extent, these issues are intertwined because PPI therapy works in less than half of patients and to determine this conclusively, an endoscopy is needed.  Clearly, a reliable noninvasive biomarker would be quite helpful.

In the meantime, another study (CE Kuehni et al. Gastroenterol 2016; 150: 581-90, editorial 547-48) has shown that “clinical remission” has modest accuracy in detecting endoscopic and histologic remission in EoE.

This prospective observational study, performed between 2011-14, recruited 269 consecutive adults in Switzerland and U.S.. 67% male median age 39 years.

Key finding:

Of 111 who were in clinical remission (41.3%), only 79 (72%) and 75 (68%) were in endoscopic and histologic (<20 eos/mm2 which corresponds to <5 eos/median hpf) remission respectively.

My take (borrowed): “Physicians cannot rely on lack of symptoms to make assumptions about lack of biologic disease activity in adult EoE patients.”

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New Normal for Ulcerative Colitis

A recent study (Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol 2014; 12: 1887-93) shows that patients with ulcerative colitis (UC) with subclinical activity, based on fecal calprotectin levels, improve with mesalamine escalation.  DEAR, the acronym for this study,  stands for Dose Escalation And Remission.

Methods: The researchers screened 119 patients with UC who were considered to be in remission based on the Simple Clinical Colitis Activity Index score. 52 patients who had calprotectin > 50 mcg/g and were receiving no more that  3 g/day of mesalamine were identified and switched to a mesalamine  MMX 2.4 g/day dose for 6 weeks.  Then the group was divided into an escalation group (4.8 g/day) or control group (continued with 2.4 g/day) for an additional 6 weeks.

Key findings:

  • 26.9% of the escalation group and 3.8% of the control group achieved a calprotectin <50 mcg/g.
  • 52.6% of the escalation group and 15.8% of the control group achieved a calprotectin <100 mcg/g.
  • 76.9% of the escalation group and 16.7% of the control group achieved a calprotectin <200 mcg/g.

This study shows that higher doses of mesalamine were more effective in improving the calprotectin biomarker; however, the exact target value for calprotectin is not entirely clear.  This study is in agreement with several others which have suggested a dose-response relationship with mesalamine therapy. This study suggests that a “quiescent” ulcerative colitis by scoring indices may overestimate the extent of colitis control.  However, the associated editorial (pg 1894) cautions that “the current data are not sufficient to warrant the use of mesalamine dose escalation in patients with UC in clinical remission who have an increased FC (fecal calprotectin) concentration greater than 50 mcg/kg.”

Also noted: Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol 2014; 12: 1865-70.  Prospective study of 59 patients with UC with clinical and endoscopic remission.  18 (30.5%) had histologic inflammation which correlated with elevated fecal calprotectin: median 278 mcg/g compared with 68 mcg/g for those without histologic inflammation.

Take-away message: If histologic inflammation is important, then fecal calprotectin can help identify this in patients otherwise considered to be in remission.

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Looking better or feeling better in EoE?

When seeing a new diagnosis of eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE), I often try to explain that there are two potential goals of treatment: clinical remission (improvement in symptoms) and histologic remission (improvement in appearance of esophagus with microscope).  Unfortunately, these two outcomes are not always synchronous; more proof of this comes from a recent study (Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol 2012; 10: 742-49, 750-52 [editorial]).

In this double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study of fluticasone in adult patients with a new diagnosis of EoE, 19 patients were treated with fluticasone (880 μg BID) and 15 patients were treated with placebo inhaler –for six weeks.  Initially, 21 patients were assigned to each group; 2 dropped out of treatment group and 6 dropped out of placebo group before completion of followup EGD.   The average age in the treatment group was 37 years versus 38 years in the placebo group.  A complete histologic response was defined as >90% reduction in mean eosinophil count; this occurred in 62% of fluticasone patients and in none of the placebo group, based on an intention-to-treat analysis.  Another measure of eosinophil activity, eosinophil-derived neurotoxin (EDN), was reduced by 81% on intracellular staining in the treatment group compared with 8% in the placebo group.  Figures 1 through 3 show this staining –it’s pretty cool!

Yet, the clinical response was not statistically different.  Dysphagia was reduced by 57% in the treated subjects compared to 33% in the placebo subjects in an intention-to-treat analysis.  Results were improved modestly in those who actually were treated: 63% (12 of 19) compared to 47% of placebo patients.  A complete response for dysphagia was noted in 42.9% of fluticasone group compared with 28.6% of control group based on an intention-to-treat analysis.  A fairly high rate of candidiasis was noted in treated patients 26%;  no placebo patients developed candida.

Another interesting finding was that among those who continued PPIs for heartburn symptoms the response to fluticasone was not improved.  40% of PPI users had a complete histologic response compared with 79% of non-PPI users.

So what are the reasons for the discrepancy between clinical and histologic response?

  • Established strictures and small-caliber esophagus may require dilation rather than medicines to relieve dysphagia
  • Esophageal fibrosis and subsequent esophageal compliance may not respond to topical therapy or take a lot longer to improve
  • Secondary candidiasis may reduce clinical response –though in this study, 5 of 6 patients with candida did in fact have symptom resolution
  • Compensatory behaviors may improve clinical symptoms –chewing food, cutting up food better, drinking more fluids, and avoiding some foods.  This may make it harder to detect important differences.

Patient information link: (Eosinophilic esophagitis – CCDHC Home)

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Look of improvement on an EoE diet

Guidelines for Eosinophilic Esophagitis

Eosinophilic Esophagitis -Six Food Group Diet

The undiscovered country

MicroRNA signature for eosinophilic esophagitis