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1.  A Functional Variant in MicroRNA-146a Promoter Modulates Its Expression and Confers Disease Risk for Systemic Lupus Erythematosus 
PLoS Genetics  2011;7(6):e1002128.
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a complex autoimmune disease with a strong genetic predisposition, characterized by an upregulated type I interferon pathway. MicroRNAs are important regulators of immune homeostasis, and aberrant microRNA expression has been demonstrated in patients with autoimmune diseases. We recently identified miR-146a as a negative regulator of the interferon pathway and linked the abnormal activation of this pathway to the underexpression of miR-146a in SLE patients. To explore why the expression of miR-146a is reduced in SLE patients, we conducted short parallel sequencing of potentially regulatory regions of miR-146a and identified a novel genetic variant (rs57095329) in the promoter region exhibiting evidence for association with SLE that was replicated independently in 7,182 Asians (Pmeta = 2.74×10−8, odds ratio = 1.29 [1.18–1.40]). The risk-associated G allele was linked to reduced expression of miR-146a in the peripheral blood leukocytes of the controls. Combined functional assays showed that the risk-associated G allele reduced the protein-binding affinity and activity of the promoter compared with those of the promoter containing the protective A allele. Transcription factor Ets-1, encoded by the lupus-susceptibility gene ETS1, identified in recent genome-wide association studies, binds near this variant. The manipulation of Ets-1 levels strongly affected miR-146a promoter activity in vitro; and the knockdown of Ets-1, mimicking its reduced expression in SLE, directly impaired the induction of miR-146a. We also observed additive effects of the risk alleles of miR-146a and ETS1. Our data identified and confirmed an association between a functional promoter variant of miR-146a and SLE. This risk allele had decreased binding to transcription factor Ets-1, contributing to reduced levels of miR-146a in SLE patients.
Author Summary
Genome-wide association studies have identified quite a number of susceptibility loci associated with complex diseases such as systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). However, for most of them, the intrinsic link between genetic variation and disease mechanism is not fully understood. SLE is characterized by a significantly upregulated type I interferon (IFN) pathway, and we have previously reported that underexpression of a microRNA, miR-146a, contributes to alterations in the type I IFN pathway in lupus patients. Here we identified a novel genetic variant in the promoter region of miR-146a that is directly related to reduced expression of miR-146a and is associated with SLE susceptibility. The risk allele of this variant confers weaker binding affinity for Ets-1, which is a transcription factor encoded by a lupus susceptibility gene found in recent GWAS. These findings suggest that reduced expression of Ets-1 and its reduced binding affinity to the miR-146a promoter both may contribute to low levels of this microRNA in SLE patients, which may contribute to the upregulated type I IFN pathway in these patients. To our knowledge, this is also the first piece of evidence showing association between a genetic variant in a promoter region of a miRNA gene and a human disease.
PMCID: PMC3128113  PMID: 21738483
2.  Differential Genetic Associations for Systemic Lupus Erythematosus Based on Anti–dsDNA Autoantibody Production 
PLoS Genetics  2011;7(3):e1001323.
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a clinically heterogeneous, systemic autoimmune disease characterized by autoantibody formation. Previously published genome-wide association studies (GWAS) have investigated SLE as a single phenotype. Therefore, we conducted a GWAS to identify genetic factors associated with anti–dsDNA autoantibody production, a SLE–related autoantibody with diagnostic and clinical importance. Using two independent datasets, over 400,000 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) were studied in a total of 1,717 SLE cases and 4,813 healthy controls. Anti–dsDNA autoantibody positive (anti–dsDNA +, n = 811) and anti–dsDNA autoantibody negative (anti–dsDNA –, n = 906) SLE cases were compared to healthy controls and to each other to identify SNPs associated specifically with these SLE subtypes. SNPs in the previously identified SLE susceptibility loci STAT4, IRF5, ITGAM, and the major histocompatibility complex were strongly associated with anti–dsDNA + SLE. Far fewer and weaker associations were observed for anti–dsDNA – SLE. For example, rs7574865 in STAT4 had an OR for anti–dsDNA + SLE of 1.77 (95% CI 1.57–1.99, p = 2.0E-20) compared to an OR for anti–dsDNA – SLE of 1.26 (95% CI 1.12–1.41, p = 2.4E-04), with pheterogeneity<0.0005. SNPs in the SLE susceptibility loci BANK1, KIAA1542, and UBE2L3 showed evidence of association with anti–dsDNA + SLE and were not associated with anti–dsDNA – SLE. In conclusion, we identified differential genetic associations with SLE based on anti–dsDNA autoantibody production. Many previously identified SLE susceptibility loci may confer disease risk through their role in autoantibody production and be more accurately described as autoantibody propensity loci. Lack of strong SNP associations may suggest that other types of genetic variation or non-genetic factors such as environmental exposures have a greater impact on susceptibility to anti–dsDNA – SLE.
Author Summary
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a chronic autoimmune disease that can involve virtually any organ system. SLE patients produce antibodies that bind to their own cells and proteins (autoantibodies) which can cause irreversible organ damage. One particular SLE–related autoantibody directed at double-stranded DNA (anti–dsDNA) is associated with kidney involvement and more severe disease. Previous genome-wide association studies (GWAS) in SLE have studied SLE itself, not particular SLE manifestations. Therefore, we conducted this GWAS of anti–dsDNA autoantibody production to identify genetic associations with this clinically important autoantibody. We found that many previously identified SLE–associated genes are more strongly associated with anti–dsDNA autoantibody production than SLE itself, and they may be more accurately described as autoantibody propensity genes. No strong genetic associations were observed for SLE patients who do not produce anti–dsDNA autoantibodies, suggesting that other factors may have more influence in developing this type of SLE. Further investigation of these autoantibody propensity genes may lead to greater insight into the causes of autoantibody production and organ damage in SLE.
PMCID: PMC3048371  PMID: 21408207
3.  Preferential Binding to Elk-1 by SLE-Associated IL10 Risk Allele Upregulates IL10 Expression 
PLoS Genetics  2013;9(10):e1003870.
Immunoregulatory cytokine interleukin-10 (IL-10) is elevated in sera from patients with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) correlating with disease activity. The established association of IL10 with SLE and other autoimmune diseases led us to fine map causal variant(s) and to explore underlying mechanisms. We assessed 19 tag SNPs, covering the IL10 gene cluster including IL19, IL20 and IL24, for association with SLE in 15,533 case and control subjects from four ancestries. The previously reported IL10 variant, rs3024505 located at 1 kb downstream of IL10, exhibited the strongest association signal and was confirmed for association with SLE in European American (EA) (P = 2.7×10−8, OR = 1.30), but not in non-EA ancestries. SNP imputation conducted in EA dataset identified three additional SLE-associated SNPs tagged by rs3024505 (rs3122605, rs3024493 and rs3024495 located at 9.2 kb upstream, intron 3 and 4 of IL10, respectively), and SLE-risk alleles of these SNPs were dose-dependently associated with elevated levels of IL10 mRNA in PBMCs and circulating IL-10 protein in SLE patients and controls. Using nuclear extracts of peripheral blood cells from SLE patients for electrophoretic mobility shift assays, we identified specific binding of transcription factor Elk-1 to oligodeoxynucleotides containing the risk (G) allele of rs3122605, suggesting rs3122605 as the most likely causal variant regulating IL10 expression. Elk-1 is known to be activated by phosphorylation and nuclear localization to induce transcription. Of interest, phosphorylated Elk-1 (p-Elk-1) detected only in nuclear extracts of SLE PBMCs appeared to increase with disease activity. Co-expression levels of p-Elk-1 and IL-10 were elevated in SLE T, B cells and monocytes, associated with increased disease activity in SLE B cells, and were best downregulated by ERK inhibitor. Taken together, our data suggest that preferential binding of activated Elk-1 to the IL10 rs3122605-G allele upregulates IL10 expression and confers increased risk for SLE in European Americans.
Author Summary
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), a debilitating autoimmune disease characterized by the production of pathogenic autoantibodies, has a strong genetic basis. Variants of the IL10 gene, which encodes cytokine interleukin-10 (IL-10) with known function of promoting B cell hyperactivity and autoantibody production, are associated with SLE and other autoimmune diseases, and serum IL-10 levels are elevated in SLE patients correlating with increased disease activity. In this study, to discover SLE-predisposing causal variant(s), we assessed variants within the genomic region containing IL10 and its gene family member IL19, IL20 and IL24 for association with SLE in case and control subjects from diverse ancestries. We identified SLE-associated SNP rs3122605 located at 9.2 kb upstream of IL10 as the most likely causal variant in subjects of European ancestry. The SLE-risk allele of rs3122605 was dose-dependently associated with elevated IL10 expression at both mRNA and protein levels in peripheral blood samples from SLE patients and controls, which could be explained, at least in part, by its preferential binding to Elk-1, a transcription factor activated in B cells during active disease of SLE patients. Elk-1-mediated IL-10 overexpression could be downregulated by inhibiting activation of mitogen-activated protein kinases, suggesting a potential therapeutic target for SLE.
PMCID: PMC3794920  PMID: 24130510
4.  High-Density SNP Screening of the Major Histocompatibility Complex in Systemic Lupus Erythematosus Demonstrates Strong Evidence for Independent Susceptibility Regions 
PLoS Genetics  2009;5(10):e1000696.
A substantial genetic contribution to systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) risk is conferred by major histocompatibility complex (MHC) gene(s) on chromosome 6p21. Previous studies in SLE have lacked statistical power and genetic resolution to fully define MHC influences. We characterized 1,610 Caucasian SLE cases and 1,470 parents for 1,974 MHC SNPs, the highly polymorphic HLA-DRB1 locus, and a panel of ancestry informative markers. Single-marker analyses revealed strong signals for SNPs within several MHC regions, as well as with HLA-DRB1 (global p = 9.99×10−16). The most strongly associated DRB1 alleles were: *0301 (odds ratio, OR = 2.21, p = 2.53×10−12), *1401 (OR = 0.50, p = 0.0002), and *1501 (OR = 1.39, p = 0.0032). The MHC region SNP demonstrating the strongest evidence of association with SLE was rs3117103, with OR = 2.44 and p = 2.80×10−13. Conditional haplotype and stepwise logistic regression analyses identified strong evidence for association between SLE and the extended class I, class I, class III, class II, and the extended class II MHC regions. Sequential removal of SLE–associated DRB1 haplotypes revealed independent effects due to variation within OR2H2 (extended class I, rs362521, p = 0.006), CREBL1 (class III, rs8283, p = 0.01), and DQB2 (class II, rs7769979, p = 0.003, and rs10947345, p = 0.0004). Further, conditional haplotype analyses demonstrated that variation within MICB (class I, rs3828903, p = 0.006) also contributes to SLE risk independent of HLA-DRB1*0301. Our results for the first time delineate with high resolution several MHC regions with independent contributions to SLE risk. We provide a list of candidate variants based on biologic and functional considerations that may be causally related to SLE risk and warrant further investigation.
Author Summary
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is an autoimmune disease characterized by autoantibody production and involvement of multiple organ systems. Although the cause of SLE remains unknown, several lines of evidence underscore the importance of genetic factors. As is true for most autoimmune diseases, a substantial genetic contribution to disease risk is conferred by major histocompatibility complex (MHC) gene(s) on chromosome 6. This region of the genome contains a large number of genes that participate in the immune response. However, the full contribution of this genomic region to SLE risk has not yet been defined. In the current study we characterize a large number of SLE patients and family members for approximately 2,000 MHC region variants to identify the specific genes that influence disease risk. Our results, for the first time, implicate four different MHC regions in SLE risk. We provide a list of candidate variants based on biologic and functional considerations that may be causally related to SLE risk and warrant further investigation.
PMCID: PMC2758598  PMID: 19851445
5.  A Genome-Wide Association Study Identified AFF1 as a Susceptibility Locus for Systemic Lupus Eyrthematosus in Japanese 
PLoS Genetics  2012;8(1):e1002455.
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is an autoimmune disease that causes multiple organ damage. Although recent genome-wide association studies (GWAS) have contributed to discovery of SLE susceptibility genes, few studies has been performed in Asian populations. Here, we report a GWAS for SLE examining 891 SLE cases and 3,384 controls and multi-stage replication studies examining 1,387 SLE cases and 28,564 controls in Japanese subjects. Considering that expression quantitative trait loci (eQTLs) have been implicated in genetic risks for autoimmune diseases, we integrated an eQTL study into the results of the GWAS. We observed enrichments of cis-eQTL positive loci among the known SLE susceptibility loci (30.8%) compared to the genome-wide SNPs (6.9%). In addition, we identified a novel association of a variant in the AF4/FMR2 family, member 1 (AFF1) gene at 4q21 with SLE susceptibility (rs340630; P = 8.3×10−9, odds ratio = 1.21). The risk A allele of rs340630 demonstrated a cis-eQTL effect on the AFF1 transcript with enhanced expression levels (P<0.05). As AFF1 transcripts were prominently expressed in CD4+ and CD19+ peripheral blood lymphocytes, up-regulation of AFF1 may cause the abnormality in these lymphocytes, leading to disease onset.
Author Summary
Although recent genome-wide association study (GWAS) approaches have successfully contributed to disease gene discovery, many susceptibility loci are known to be still uncaptured due to strict significance threshold for multiple hypothesis testing. Therefore, prioritization of GWAS results by incorporating additional information is recommended. Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is an autoimmune disease that causes multiple organ damage. Considering that abnormalities in B cell activity play essential roles in SLE, prioritization based on an expression quantitative trait loci (eQTLs) study for B cells would be a promising approach. In this study, we report a GWAS and multi-stage replication studies for SLE examining 2,278 SLE cases and 31,948 controls in Japanese subjects. We integrated eQTL study into the results of the GWAS and identified AFF1 as a novel SLE susceptibility loci. We also confirmed cis-regulatory effect of the locus on the AFF1 transcript. Our study would be one of the initial successes for detecting novel genetic locus using the eQTL study, and it should contribute to our understanding of the genetic loci being uncaptured by standard GWAS approaches.
PMCID: PMC3266877  PMID: 22291604
6.  Transancestral mapping of the MHC region in systemic lupus erythematosus identifies new independent and interacting loci at MSH5, HLA-DPB1 and HLA-G 
Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases  2012;71(5):777-784.
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a chronic multisystem genetically complex autoimmune disease characterised by the production of autoantibodies to nuclear and cellular antigens, tissue inflammation and organ damage. Genome-wide association studies have shown that variants within the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) region on chromosome 6 confer the greatest genetic risk for SLE in European and Chinese populations. However, the causal variants remain elusive due to tight linkage disequilibrium across disease-associated MHC haplotypes, the highly polymorphic nature of many MHC genes and the heterogeneity of the SLE phenotype.
A high-density case-control single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) study of the MHC region was undertaken in SLE cohorts of Spanish and Filipino ancestry using a custom Illumina chip in order to fine-map association signals in these haplotypically diverse populations. In addition, comparative analyses were performed between these two datasets and a northern European UK SLE cohort. A total of 1433 cases and 1458 matched controls were examined.
Using this transancestral SNP mapping approach, novel independent loci were identified within the MHC region in UK, Spanish and Filipino patients with SLE with some evidence of interaction. These loci include HLA-DPB1, HLA-G and MSH5 which are independent of each other and HLA-DRB1 alleles. Furthermore, the established SLE-associated HLA-DRB1*15 signal was refined to an interval encompassing HLA-DRB1 and HLA-DQA1. Increased frequencies of MHC region risk alleles and haplotypes were found in the Filipino population compared with Europeans, suggesting that the greater disease burden in non-European SLE may be due in part to this phenomenon.
These data highlight the usefulness of mapping disease susceptibility loci using a transancestral approach, particularly in a region as complex as the MHC, and offer a springboard for further fine-mapping, resequencing and transcriptomic analysis.
PMCID: PMC3329227  PMID: 22233601
7.  Mutations in Complement Regulatory Proteins Predispose to Preeclampsia: A Genetic Analysis of the PROMISSE Cohort 
PLoS Medicine  2011;8(3):e1001013.
Jane Salmon and colleagues studied 250 pregnant patients with SLE and/or antiphospholipid antibodies and found an association of risk variants in complement regulatory proteins in patients who developed preeclampsia, as well as in preeclampsia patients lacking autoimmune disease.
Pregnancy in women with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) or antiphospholipid antibodies (APL Ab)—autoimmune conditions characterized by complement-mediated injury—is associated with increased risk of preeclampsia and miscarriage. Our previous studies in mice indicate that complement activation targeted to the placenta drives angiogenic imbalance and placental insufficiency.
Methods and Findings
We use PROMISSE, a prospective study of 250 pregnant patients with SLE and/or APL Ab, to test the hypothesis in humans that impaired capacity to limit complement activation predisposes to preeclampsia. We sequenced genes encoding three complement regulatory proteins—membrane cofactor protein (MCP), complement factor I (CFI), and complement factor H (CFH)—in 40 patients who had preeclampsia and found heterozygous mutations in seven (18%). Five of these patients had risk variants in MCP or CFI that were previously identified in atypical hemolytic uremic syndrome, a disease characterized by endothelial damage. One had a novel mutation in MCP that impairs regulation of C4b. These findings constitute, to our knowledge, the first genetic defects associated with preeclampsia in SLE and/or APL Ab. We confirmed the association of hypomorphic variants of MCP and CFI in a cohort of non-autoimmune preeclampsia patients in which five of 59 were heterozygous for mutations.
The presence of risk variants in complement regulatory proteins in patients with SLE and/or APL Ab who develop preeclampsia, as well as in preeclampsia patients lacking autoimmune disease, links complement activation to disease pathogenesis and suggests new targets for treatment of this important public health problem.
Study Registration NCT00198068
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Most pregnancies culminate in the birth of a healthy baby but, sadly, about a quarter of women lose their babies during pregnancy. A common pregnancy-related medical problem that threatens the life of both baby and mother is preeclampsia. Mild and severe preeclampsia affects up to 10% and 1%–2% of pregnancies, respectively. Preeclampsia occurs because of a problem with the function of the placenta, the organ that transfers nutrients and oxygen from mother to baby and removes waste products from the baby. Although preeclampsia begins early in pregnancy, it is diagnosed by the onset of high blood pressure (hypertension) and the appearance of protein in the urine (proteinuria) after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Other warning signs include headaches and swelling of the hands and face. The only cure for preeclampsia is delivery, and labor is usually induced early to prevent eclampsia (seizures), stroke, liver and kidney failure, and breathing and blood vessel problems developing in the mother. Although delivery before 37 weeks of pregnancy is not generally recommended, in cases of preeclampsia it may be too dangerous for both the baby and the mother to allow the pregnancy to continue. Unfortunately when severe preeclampsia occurs in the second trimester, babies weighing only 500 grams may be delivered and they may not survive.
Why Was This Study Done?
Because the exact cause of preeclampsia is unknown, it is difficult to develop treatments for the condition or to find ways to prevent it. Many experts think that immune system problems—in particular, perturbations in complement activation—may be involved in preeclampsia. The complement system is a set of blood proteins that attacks invading bacteria and viruses. The activation of complement proteins is usually tightly regulated (overactivation of the complement system causes tissue damage) and, because preeclampsia may run in families, one hypothesis is that mutations (genetic changes) in complement regulatory proteins might predispose women to preeclampsia. In this study, the researchers test this hypothesis by sequencing genes encoding complement regulatory proteins in pregnant women with the autoimmune diseases systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and/or antiphospholipid antibodies (APL Ab) who developed preeclampsia. In autoimmune diseases, the immune system attacks healthy human cells instead of harmful invaders. Both SLE and APL Ab are characterized by complement-mediated tissue injury and are associated with an increased risk of preeclampsia and miscarriage.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
Two hundred fifty women with SLE and/or APL Ab were enrolled into the PROMISSE study (a multi-center observational study to identify predictors of pregnancy outcome in women with SLE and/or APL Ab) when they were 12 weeks pregnant and followed through pregnancy. Thirty patients developed preeclampsia during the study and ten more had had preeclampsia during a previous pregnancy. The researchers sequenced the genes for complement regulatory proteins: membrane cofactor protein (MCP), factor I, and factor H in these 40 patients. Seven women (18%) had mutations in one copy of one of these genes (there are two copies of most genes in human cells). Five mutations were alterations in MCP or factor I that are gene variants that increase the risk of hemolytic uremic syndrome, a disease characterized by blood vessel damage. The sixth mutation was a new MCP mutation that impaired MCP's ability to regulate complement component C4b. The final mutation was a factor H mutation that did not have any obvious functional effect. No mutations in complement regulatory proteins were found in 34 matched participants in PROMISSE without preeclampsia but, among a group of non-autoimmune women who developed preeclampsia during pregnancy, 10% had mutations in MCP or factor I.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings identify MCP and factor I mutations as genetic defects associated with preeclampsia in pregnant women with SLE and/or APL Ab. Importantly, they also reveal an association between similar mutations and preeclampsia in women without any underlying autoimmune disease. Taken together with evidence from previous animal experiments, these findings suggest that dysregulation of complement activation is involved in the development of preeclampsia. Although further studies are needed to confirm and extend these findings, these results suggest that proteins involved in the regulation of complement activation could be new targets for the treatment of preeclampsia and raise the possibility that tests could be developed to identify women at risk of developing preeclampsia.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
Tommy's, a UK charity that funds scientific research into the causes and prevention of miscarriage, premature birth, and stillbirth, has information on preeclampsia
The March of Dimes Foundation, a nonprofit organization for pregnancy and baby health, has information on preeclampsia
The UK National Health Services Choices website also has information about preeclampsia
Wikipedia has pages on the complement system, on autoimmune disease, and on preeclampsia (note that Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit; available in several languages)
More information on the PROMISSE study is available
PMCID: PMC3062534  PMID: 21445332
8.  Association of Genetic Variants in Complement Factor H and Factor H-Related Genes with Systemic Lupus Erythematosus Susceptibility 
PLoS Genetics  2011;7(5):e1002079.
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), a complex polygenic autoimmune disease, is associated with increased complement activation. Variants of genes encoding complement regulator factor H (CFH) and five CFH-related proteins (CFHR1-CFHR5) within the chromosome 1q32 locus linked to SLE, have been associated with multiple human diseases and may contribute to dysregulated complement activation predisposing to SLE. We assessed 60 SNPs covering the CFH-CFHRs region for association with SLE in 15,864 case-control subjects derived from four ethnic groups. Significant allelic associations with SLE were detected in European Americans (EA) and African Americans (AA), which could be attributed to an intronic CFH SNP (rs6677604, in intron 11, Pmeta = 6.6×10−8, OR = 1.18) and an intergenic SNP between CFHR1 and CFHR4 (rs16840639, Pmeta = 2.9×10−7, OR = 1.17) rather than to previously identified disease-associated CFH exonic SNPs, including I62V, Y402H, A474A, and D936E. In addition, allelic association of rs6677604 with SLE was subsequently confirmed in Asians (AS). Haplotype analysis revealed that the underlying causal variant, tagged by rs6677604 and rs16840639, was localized to a ∼146 kb block extending from intron 9 of CFH to downstream of CFHR1. Within this block, the deletion of CFHR3 and CFHR1 (CFHR3-1Δ), a likely causal variant measured using multiplex ligation-dependent probe amplification, was tagged by rs6677604 in EA and AS and rs16840639 in AA, respectively. Deduced from genotypic associations of tag SNPs in EA, AA, and AS, homozygous deletion of CFHR3-1Δ (Pmeta = 3.2×10−7, OR = 1.47) conferred a higher risk of SLE than heterozygous deletion (Pmeta = 3.5×10−4, OR = 1.14). These results suggested that the CFHR3-1Δ deletion within the SLE-associated block, but not the previously described exonic SNPs of CFH, might contribute to the development of SLE in EA, AA, and AS, providing new insights into the role of complement regulators in the pathogenesis of SLE.
Author Summary
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a complex autoimmune disease, associated with increased complement activation. Previous studies have provided evidence for the presence of SLE susceptibility gene(s) in the chromosome 1q31-32 locus. Within 1q32, genes encoding complement regulator factor H (CFH) and five CFH-related proteins (CFHR1-CFHR5) may contribute to the development of SLE, because genetic variants of these genes impair complement regulation and predispose to various human diseases. In this study, we tested association of genetic variants in the region containing CFH and CFHRs with SLE. We identified genetic variants predisposing to SLE in European American, African American, and Asian populations, which might be attributed to the deletion of CFHR3 and CFHR1 genes but not previously identified disease-associated exonic variants of CFH. This study provides the first evidence for consistent association between CFH/CFHRs and SLE across multi-ancestral SLE datasets, providing new insights into the role of complement regulators in the pathogenesis of SLE.
PMCID: PMC3102741  PMID: 21637784
9.  Elevated Serum Levels of Interferon-Regulated Chemokines Are Biomarkers for Active Human Systemic Lupus Erythematosus 
PLoS Medicine  2006;3(12):e491.
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a serious systemic autoimmune disorder that affects multiple organ systems and is characterized by unpredictable flares of disease. Recent evidence indicates a role for type I interferon (IFN) in SLE pathogenesis; however, the downstream effects of IFN pathway activation are not well understood. Here we test the hypothesis that type I IFN-regulated proteins are present in the serum of SLE patients and correlate with disease activity.
Methods and Findings
We performed a comprehensive survey of the serologic proteome in human SLE and identified dysregulated levels of 30 cytokines, chemokines, growth factors, and soluble receptors. Particularly striking was the highly coordinated up-regulation of 12 inflammatory and/or homeostatic chemokines, molecules that direct the movement of leukocytes in the body. Most of the identified chemokines were inducible by type I IFN, and their levels correlated strongly with clinical and laboratory measures of disease activity.
These data suggest that severely disrupted chemokine gradients may contribute to the systemic autoimmunity observed in human SLE. Furthermore, the levels of serum chemokines may serve as convenient biomarkers for disease activity in lupus.
A comprehensive survey of the serologic proteome in human SLE suggests that severely disrupted chemokine gradients may contribute to the systemic autoimmunity observed.
Editors' Summary
The term “lupus,” meaning wolf in Latin, is often used as an abbreviation for the disease systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). The name may have been given because some people with SLE have a rash that slightly resembles a wolf's face. The condition affects around 50 to 100 people per 100,000, and is much more common in women than men. SLE is a complicated disease that comes about when antibodies inappropriately attack the body's own connective tissues, although it is not known why this happens. Symptoms vary between different people; the disease may get better and then worse, without explanation; and can affect many different organs including the skin, joints, kidneys, blood cells, and brain and nervous system. SLE is difficult for doctors to diagnose. Although the disease cannot be cured, patients who are diagnosed with SLE can be treated for their symptoms, and the right management can slow progress of the disease. One area of SLE research focuses on finding “molecular markers” (e.g., proteins or other compounds) that could be tested for in the blood. Researchers hope this would help doctors to more accurately diagnose SLE initially, and then also help to track progress in a patient's condition.
Why Was This Study Done?
“Gene expression” is a term meaning the process by which a gene's DNA sequence is converted into the structures and functions of a cell. These investigators had found in previous studies that certain genes were more “highly expressed” in the blood cells of patients with SLE. Some of these genes were already known to be regulated by interferons (a group of proteins, produced by certain blood cells, that are important in helping to defend against viral infections). The investigators performing this study wanted to understand more clearly the role of interferon in SLE and to see whether the genes that are more highly expressed in patients with SLE go on to produce higher levels of protein, which might then provide useful markers for monitoring the condition.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
This research project was a “case-control” study, in which the researchers compared the levels of certain proteins in the blood of people who had SLE with the levels in people who did not have the condition. Thirty people were recruited as cases, from a group of patients with SLE who have been under evaluation at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine since 1987. Fifteen controls were recruited from a group of healthy people of similar age and sex as the patients with SLE; everyone involved in the study gave their consent to take part. Blood samples were taken from each individual, and the serum (liquid component of blood) was separated out. The serum levels of 160 different blood proteins were then measured. When comparing levels of blood proteins between the groups, the researchers found that 30 specific proteins were present at higher or lower levels in the SLE-affected patients. Many of these proteins are cytokines, which are regulated by interferons and are involved in the process of “signaling” within the immune system. A few proteins were found at lower levels. Levels of the interferon-regulated proteins were, on average, seen at higher levels in people whose condition was more severe.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These results suggest that patients with SLE are likely to have a very different pattern of regulation of certain proteins within the blood, particularly the proteins involved in signaling within the immune system. The authors propose that these proteins may be involved in the progression of the disease. There is also the possibility that some of these proteins may prove useful in diagnostic tests, or in tests for monitoring how the disease progresses. However, before any such tests could be used in clinical practice, they would need to be further developed and then thoroughly tested in clinical trials.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
Patient information from the UK National Health Service on systemic lupus erythematosus
Patient handout from the US National Institutes of Health
MedlinePLUS encyclopedia entry on lupus
Information on lupus from the UK Arthritis Research Campaign
PMCID: PMC1702557  PMID: 17177599
10.  Trait-stratified genome-wide association study identifies novel and diverse genetic associations with serologic and cytokine phenotypes in systemic lupus erythematosus 
Arthritis Research & Therapy  2010;12(4):R151.
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a highly heterogeneous disorder, characterized by differences in autoantibody profile, serum cytokines, and clinical manifestations. SLE-associated autoantibodies and high serum interferon alpha (IFN-α) are important heritable phenotypes in SLE which are correlated with each other, and play a role in disease pathogenesis. These two heritable risk factors are shared between ancestral backgrounds. The aim of the study was to detect genetic factors associated with autoantibody profiles and serum IFN-α in SLE.
We undertook a case-case genome-wide association study of SLE patients stratified by ancestry and extremes of phenotype in serology and serum IFN-α. Single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in seven loci were selected for follow-up in a large independent cohort of 538 SLE patients and 522 controls using a multi-step screening approach based on novel metrics and expert database review. The seven loci were: leucine-rich repeat containing 20 (LRRC20); protein phosphatase 1 H (PPM1H); lysophosphatidic acid receptor 1 (LPAR1); ankyrin repeat and sterile alpha motif domain 1A (ANKS1A); protein tyrosine phosphatase, receptor type M (PTPRM); ephrin A5 (EFNA5); and V-set and immunoglobulin domain containing 2 (VSIG2).
SNPs in the LRRC20, PPM1H, LPAR1, ANKS1A, and VSIG2 loci each demonstrated strong association with a particular serologic profile (all odds ratios > 2.2 and P < 3.5 × 10-4). Each of these serologic profiles was associated with increased serum IFN-α. SNPs in both PTPRM and LRRC20 were associated with increased serum IFN-α independent of serologic profile (P = 2.2 × 10-6 and P = 2.6 × 10-3 respectively). None of the SNPs were strongly associated with SLE in case-control analysis, suggesting that the major impact of these variants will be upon subphenotypes in SLE.
This study demonstrates the power of using serologic and cytokine subphenotypes to elucidate genetic factors involved in complex autoimmune disease. The distinct associations observed emphasize the heterogeneity of molecular pathogenesis in SLE, and the need for stratification by subphenotypes in genetic studies. We hypothesize that these genetic variants play a role in disease manifestations and severity in SLE.
PMCID: PMC2945049  PMID: 20659327
11.  Identification of Two Independent Risk Factors for Lupus within the MHC in United Kingdom Families 
PLoS Genetics  2007;3(11):e192.
The association of the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) with SLE is well established yet the causal variants arising from this region remain to be identified, largely due to inadequate study design and the strong linkage disequilibrium demonstrated by genes across this locus. The majority of studies thus far have identified strong association with classical class II alleles, in particular HLA-DRB1*0301 and HLA-DRB1*1501. Additional associations have been reported with class III alleles; specifically, complement C4 null alleles and a tumor necrosis factor promoter SNP (TNF-308G/A). However, the relative effects of these class II and class III variants have not been determined. We have thus used a family-based approach to map association signals across the MHC class II and class III regions in a cohort of 314 complete United Kingdom Caucasian SLE trios by typing tagging SNPs together with classical typing of the HLA-DRB1 locus. Using TDT and conditional regression analyses, we have demonstrated the presence of two distinct and independent association signals in SLE: HLA-DRB1*0301 (nominal p = 4.9 × 10−8, permuted p < 0.0001, OR = 2.3) and the T allele of SNP rs419788 (nominal p = 4.3 × 10−8, permuted p < 0.0001, OR = 2.0) in intron 6 of the class III region gene SKIV2L. Assessment of genotypic risk demonstrates a likely dominant model of inheritance for HLA-DRB1*0301, while rs419788-T confers susceptibility in an additive manner. Furthermore, by comparing transmitted and untransmitted parental chromosomes, we have delimited our class II signal to a 180 kb region encompassing the alleles HLA-DRB1*0301-HLA-DQA1*0501-HLA-DQB1*0201 alone. Our class III signal importantly excludes independent association at the TNF promoter polymorphism, TNF-308G/A, in our SLE cohort and provides a potentially novel locus for future genetic and functional studies.
Author Summary
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE/lupus) is a complex autoimmune disease in which the body's immune system attacks its own tissues, causing inflammation in a variety of different organs such as the skin, joints, and kidneys. The cause of lupus is not known, but genes play a significant role in the predisposition to disease. The major histocompatibility complex (MHC) on Chromosome 6 contains at least 100 different genes that affect the immune system, including the genes with the strongest effect on lupus susceptibility. Despite the importance of the MHC in SLE, the identity of the actual genes in the MHC region that cause SLE has remained elusive. In the present study, we used the latest set of genetic markers present at the MHC in lupus families to identify the actual genes that affect the disease. To our knowledge, we have shown for the first time that two separate groups of genes are involved in SLE. One group of genes alters how the immune system may inappropriately target its own tissues in the disease. How the second set of genes predisposes to SLE is the subject of ongoing study.
PMCID: PMC2065882  PMID: 17997607
12.  Genetic Risk Factors in Lupus Nephritis and IgA Nephropathy – No Support of an Overlap 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(5):e10559.
IgA nephropathy (IgAN) and nephritis in Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) are two common forms of glomerulonephritis in which genetic findings are of importance for disease development. We have recently reported an association of IgAN with variants of TGFB1. In several autoimmune diseases, particularly in SLE, IRF5, STAT4 genes and TRAF1-C5 locus have been shown to be important candidate genes. The aim of this study was to compare genetic variants from the TGFB1, IRF5, STAT4 genes and TRAF1-C5 locus with susceptibility to IgAN and lupus nephritis in two Swedish cohorts.
Patients and Methods
We genotyped 13 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in four genetic loci in 1252 DNA samples from patients with biopsy proven IgAN or with SLE (with and without nephritis) and healthy age- and sex-matched controls from the same population in Sweden.
Genotype and allelic frequencies for SNPs from selected genes did not differ significantly between lupus nephritis patients and SLE patients without nephritis. In addition, haplotype analysis for seven selected SNPs did not reveal a difference for the SLE patient groups with and without nephritis. Moreover, none of these SPNs showed a significant difference between IgAN patients and healthy controls. IRF5 and STAT4 variants remained significantly different between SLE cases and healthy controls. In addition, the data did not show an association of TRAF1-C5 polymorphism with susceptibility to SLE in this Swedish population.
Our data do not support an overlap in genetic susceptibility between patients with IgAN or SLE and reveal no specific importance of SLE associated SNPs for the presence of lupus nephritis.
PMCID: PMC2866667  PMID: 20479942
13.  A Dinucleotide Deletion in CD24 Confers Protection against Autoimmune Diseases 
PLoS Genetics  2007;3(4):e49.
It is generally believed that susceptibility to both organ-specific and systemic autoimmune diseases is under polygenic control. Although multiple genes have been implicated in each type of autoimmune disease, few are known to have a significant impact on both. Here, we investigated the significance of polymorphisms in the human gene CD24 and the susceptibility to multiple sclerosis (MS) and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). We used cases/control studies to determine the association between CD24 polymorphism and the risk of MS and SLE. In addition, we also considered transmission disequilibrium tests using family data from two cohorts consisting of a total of 150 pedigrees of MS families and 187 pedigrees of SLE families. Our analyses revealed that a dinucleotide deletion at position 1527∼1528 (P1527del) from the CD24 mRNA translation start site is associated with a significantly reduced risk (odds ratio = 0.54 with 95% confidence interval = 0.34–0.82) and delayed progression (p = 0.0188) of MS. Among the SLE cohort, we found a similar reduction of risk with the same polymorphism (odds ratio = 0.38, confidence interval = 0.22–0.62). More importantly, using 150 pedigrees of MS families from two independent cohorts and the TRANSMIT software, we found that the P1527del allele was preferentially transmitted to unaffected individuals (p = 0.002). Likewise, an analysis of 187 SLE families revealed the dinucleotide-deleted allele was preferentially transmitted to unaffected individuals (p = 0.002). The mRNA levels for the dinucleotide-deletion allele were 2.5-fold less than that of the wild-type allele. The dinucleotide deletion significantly reduced the stability of CD24 mRNA. Our results demonstrate that a destabilizing dinucleotide deletion in the 3′ UTR of CD24 mRNA conveys significant protection against both MS and SLE.
Author Summary
When an individual's immune system attacks self tissues or organs, he/she develops autoimmune diseases. Although it is well established that multiple genes control susceptibility to autoimmune diseases, most of the genes remain unidentified. In addition, although different autoimmune diseases have a common immunological basis, a very small number of genes have been identified that affect multiple autoimmune diseases. Here we show that a variation in CD24 is a likely genetic factor for the risk and progression of two types of autoimmune diseases, including multiple sclerosis (MS), an organ-specific autoimmune disease affecting the central nervous system, and systemic lupus erythematosus, a systemic autoimmune disease. Our data indicated that if an individual's CD24 gene has a specific two-nucleotide deletion in the noncoding region of CD24 mRNA, his/her risk of developing MS or SLE is reduced by 2- to 3-fold. As a group, MS patients with the two-nucleotide deletion will likely have a slower disease progression. Biochemical analysis indicated that the deletion leads to rapid decay of CD24 mRNA, which should result in reduced synthesis of the CD24 protein. Our data may be useful for the treatment and diagnosis of autoimmune diseases.
PMCID: PMC1847692  PMID: 17411341
14.  Admixture Mapping in Lupus Identifies Multiple Functional Variants within IFIH1 Associated with Apoptosis, Inflammation, and Autoantibody Production 
PLoS Genetics  2013;9(2):e1003222.
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is an inflammatory autoimmune disease with a strong genetic component. African-Americans (AA) are at increased risk of SLE, but the genetic basis of this risk is largely unknown. To identify causal variants in SLE loci in AA, we performed admixture mapping followed by fine mapping in AA and European-Americans (EA). Through genome-wide admixture mapping in AA, we identified a strong SLE susceptibility locus at 2q22–24 (LOD = 6.28), and the admixture signal is associated with the European ancestry (ancestry risk ratio ∼1.5). Large-scale genotypic analysis on 19,726 individuals of African and European ancestry revealed three independently associated variants in the IFIH1 gene: an intronic variant, rs13023380 [Pmeta = 5.20×10−14; odds ratio, 95% confidence interval = 0.82 (0.78–0.87)], and two missense variants, rs1990760 (Ala946Thr) [Pmeta = 3.08×10−7; 0.88 (0.84–0.93)] and rs10930046 (Arg460His) [Pdom = 1.16×10−8; 0.70 (0.62–0.79)]. Both missense variants produced dramatic phenotypic changes in apoptosis and inflammation-related gene expression. We experimentally validated function of the intronic SNP by DNA electrophoresis, protein identification, and in vitro protein binding assays. DNA carrying the intronic risk allele rs13023380 showed reduced binding efficiency to a cellular protein complex including nucleolin and lupus autoantigen Ku70/80, and showed reduced transcriptional activity in vivo. Thus, in SLE patients, genetic susceptibility could create a biochemical imbalance that dysregulates nucleolin, Ku70/80, or other nucleic acid regulatory proteins. This could promote antibody hypermutation and auto-antibody generation, further destabilizing the cellular network. Together with molecular modeling, our results establish a distinct role for IFIH1 in apoptosis, inflammation, and autoantibody production, and explain the molecular basis of these three risk alleles for SLE pathogenesis.
Author Summary
African-Americans (AA) are at increased risk of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), but the genetic basis of this risk increase is largely unknown. We used admixture mapping to localize disease-causing genetic variants that differ in frequency across populations. This approach is advantageous for localizing susceptibility genes in recently admixed populations like AA. Our genome-wide admixture scan identified seven admixture signals, and we followed the best signal at 2q22–24 with fine-mapping, imputation-based association analysis and experimental validation. We identified two independent coding variants and a non-coding variant within the IFIH1 gene associated with SLE. Together with molecular modeling, our results establish a distinct role for IFIH1 in apoptosis, inflammation, and autoantibody production, and explain the molecular basis of these three risk alleles for SLE pathogenesis.
PMCID: PMC3575474  PMID: 23441136
15.  Early disease onset is predicted by a higher genetic risk for lupus and is associated with a more severe phenotype in lupus patients 
Annals of the rheumatic diseases  2010;70(1):151-156.
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a chronic, multiorgan, autoimmune disease that affects people of all ages and ethnicities.
To explore the relationship between age at disease onset and many of the diverse manifestations of SLE. Additionally, to determine the relationship between age of disease onset and genetic risk in patients with SLE.
The relationship between the age at disease onset and SLE manifestations were explored in a multiracial cohort of 1317 patients. Patients with SLE were genotyped across 19 confirmed genetic susceptibility loci for SLE. Logistic regression was used to determine the relationships between the number of risk alleles present and age of disease onset.
Childhood-onset SLE had higher odds of proteinuria, malar rash, anti-dsDNA antibody, haemolytic anaemia, arthritis and leucopenia (OR=3.03, 2.13, 2.08, 2.50, 1.89, 1.53, respectively; p values <0.0001, 0.0004, 0.0005, 0.0024, 0.0114, 0.045, respectively). In female subjects, the odds of having cellular casts were 2.18 times higher in childhood-onset than in adult-onset SLE (p=0.0027). With age of onset ≥50, the odds of having proteinuria, cellular casts, anti-nRNP antibody, anti-Sm antibody, anti-dsDNA antibody and seizures were reduced. However, late adult-onset patients with SLE have higher odds of developing photosensitivity than early adult-onset patients. Each SLE-susceptibility risk allele carried within the genome of patients with SLE increased the odds of having a childhood-onset disease in a race-specific manner: by an average of 48% in Gullah and 25% in African-Americans, but this was not significant in Hispanic and European-American lupus patients.
The genetic contribution towards predicting early-onset disease in patients with SLE is quantified for the first time. A more severe SLE phenotype is found in patients with early-onset disease in a large multi-racial cohort, independent of gender, race and disease duration.
PMCID: PMC3034281  PMID: 20881011
16.  Selective Involvement of the Amygdala in Systemic Lupus Erythematosus 
PLoS Medicine  2006;3(12):e499.
Antibodies specifically affect the amygdala in a mouse model of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). The aim of our study was to investigate whether there is also specific involvement of the amygdala in human SLE.
Methods and Findings
We analyzed a group of 37 patients with neuropsychiatric SLE (NP-SLE), 21 patients with SLE, and a group of 12 healthy control participants with diffusion weighted imaging (DWI). In addition, in a subset of eight patients, plasma was available to determine their anti-NMDAR antibody status. From the structural magnetic resonance imaging data, the amygdala and the hippocampus were segmented, as well as the white and gray matter, and the apparent diffusion coefficient (ADC) was retrieved. ADC values between controls, patients with SLE, and patients with NP-SLE were tested using analysis of variance with post-hoc Bonferroni correction. No differences were found in the gray or white matter segments. The average ADC in the amygdala of patients with NP-SLE and SLE (940 × 10−6 mm2/s; p = 0.006 and 949 × 10−6 mm2/s; p = 0.019, respectively) was lower than in healthy control participants (1152 × 10−6 mm2/s). Mann-Whitney analysis revealed that the average ADC in the amygdala of patients with anti-NMDAR antibodies (n = 4; 802 × 10−6 mm2/s) was lower (p = 0.029) than the average ADC of patients without anti-NMDAR antibodies (n = 4; 979 × 10−6 mm2/s) and also lower (p = 0.001) than in healthy control participants.
This is the first study to our knowledge to observe damage in the amygdala in patients with SLE. Patients with SLE with anti-NMDAR antibodies had more severe damage in the amygdala compared to SLE patients without anti-NMDAR antibodies.
Patients with SLE who also had antibodies against the NMDA receptor had more severe damage in the amygdala as compared with patients with SLE without these antibodies.
Editors' Summary
The human body is continually attacked by viruses, bacteria, fungi, and parasites, but the immune system usually prevents these pathogens from causing disease. To be effective, the immune system has to respond rapidly to foreign antigens (bits of proteins that are unique to the pathogen) but ignore self-antigens. In autoimmune diseases, this ability to discriminate between self and nonself fails for unknown reasons, and the immune system begins to destroy human tissues. In the chronic autoimmune disease systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE or lupus), the immune system attacks the skin, joints, nervous system, and many other organs. Patients with SLE make numerous “autoantibodies” (antibodies are molecules made by the immune system that recognize and attack antigens; autoantibodies attack self-antigens). These autoantibodies start the attack on the body; then other parts of the immune system join in, causing inflammation and forming deposits of immune cells, both of which damage tissues. Common symptoms of SLE include skin rashes and arthritis, but some patients develop NP-SLE, a form of SLE that includes neuropsychiatric symptoms such as amnesia, dementia, mood disorders, strokes, and seizures. There is no cure for SLE, but mild cases are controlled with ibuprofen and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs; severe cases are kept in check with corticosteroids and other powerful immunosuppressants.
Why Was This Study Done?
In most of the tissues affected by SLE, the damage done by autoantibodies and immune cells can be seen when the tissues are examined with a microscope. But there is little microscopic damage visible in the brains of patients with NP-SLE. More generally, it is unclear how or even whether the immune system affects mental functions and emotion. In this study, researchers used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to investigate whether there are any structural changes in the brains of patients with NP-SLE that could explain their neuropsychiatric symptoms. They have also examined whether any changes in the brain can be linked to the presence of autoantibodies that recognize a protein called the NMDA receptor (anti-NMDAR antibodies) that is present on brain cells.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers used an MRI technique called diffusion weighted imaging to examine the brains of several patients with NP-SLE or SLE and the brains of several healthy individuals. Using this technique, it is possible to quantify the amount of structural damage in different regions of the brain. The researchers found no differences in most areas of the brain between the two groups of patients and the healthy controls. However, there were clear signs of damage in the amygdala (the part of the brain that regulates emotions and triggers responses to danger) in the patients with SLE or NP-SLE when compared to the control individuals. The researchers also found that the damage was more severe in the patients who had anti-NMDAR autoantibodies than in those that did not have these autoantibodies.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that autoantibodies produced by patients with SLE specifically damage the amygdala, a discovery that helps to explain some of the neuropsychiatric symptoms of this condition. Previous work has shown that the treatment of mice with anti-NMDAR antibodies and epinephrine, a stress hormone that causes leaks in the blood-brain barrier (antibodies can't usually get into the brain because of this barrier), results in damage to the amygdala and a deficient response to dangerous stimuli. The researchers suggest that a similar series of events might happen in SLE—patients often mention that a period of major stress precedes the development of symptoms. To provide stronger evidence for such a scenario, a detailed study of how stress relates to neuropsychiatric symptoms is needed. The damage to the amygdala (and the lack of damage elsewhere in the brain) and the possible association between brain damage and anti-NMDAR antibodies seen in this small study also need to be confirmed in more patients. Nevertheless, these findings provide an intriguing glimpse into the interplay between the immune system and the brain and into how stress might lead to physical damage in the brain.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
MedlinePlus encyclopedia pages on autoimmunity and on systemic lupus erythematosus
US National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases booklet for patients with SLE
American College of Rheumatology information for patients on SLE
NHS Direct Online Health Encyclopedia pages on SLE
The Lupus Foundation of America information and support for patients with SLE
PMCID: PMC1702559  PMID: 17177602
17.  The genetics of lupus: a functional perspective 
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is an autoimmune disease with a strong genetic component and is characterized by chronic inflammation and the production of anti-nuclear auto-antibodies. In the era of genome-wide association studies (GWASs), elucidating the genetic factors present in SLE has been a very successful endeavor; 28 confirmed disease susceptibility loci have been mapped. In this review, we summarize the current understanding of the genetics of lupus and focus on the strongest associated risk loci found to date (P <1.0 × 10−8). Although these loci account for less than 10% of the genetic heritability and therefore do not account for the bulk of the disease heritability, they do implicate important pathways, which contribute to SLE pathogenesis. Consequently, the main focus of the review is to outline the genetic variants in the known associated loci and then to explore the potential functional consequences of the associated variants. We also highlight the genetic overlap of these loci with other autoimmune diseases, which indicates common pathogenic mechanisms. The importance of developing functional assays will be discussed and each of them will be instrumental in furthering our understanding of these associated variants and loci. Finally, we indicate that performing a larger SLE GWAS and applying a more targeted set of methods, such as the ImmunoChip and next generation sequencing methodology, are important for identifying additional loci and enhancing our understanding of the pathogenesis of SLE.
PMCID: PMC3446495  PMID: 22640752
18.  Specificity of the STAT4 Genetic Association for Severe Disease Manifestations of Systemic Lupus Erythematosus 
PLoS Genetics  2008;4(5):e1000084.
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a genetically complex disease with heterogeneous clinical manifestations. A polymorphism in the STAT4 gene has recently been established as a risk factor for SLE, but the relationship with specific SLE subphenotypes has not been studied. We studied 137 SNPs in the STAT4 region genotyped in 4 independent SLE case series (total n = 1398) and 2560 healthy controls, along with clinical data for the cases. Using conditional testing, we confirmed the most significant STAT4 haplotype for SLE risk. We then studied a SNP marking this haplotype for association with specific SLE subphenotypes, including autoantibody production, nephritis, arthritis, mucocutaneous manifestations, and age at diagnosis. To prevent possible type-I errors from population stratification, we reanalyzed the data using a subset of subjects determined to be most homogeneous based on principal components analysis of genome-wide data. We confirmed that four SNPs in very high LD (r2 = 0.94 to 0.99) were most strongly associated with SLE, and there was no compelling evidence for additional SLE risk loci in the STAT4 region. SNP rs7574865 marking this haplotype had a minor allele frequency (MAF) = 31.1% in SLE cases compared with 22.5% in controls (OR = 1.56, p = 10−16). This SNP was more strongly associated with SLE characterized by double-stranded DNA autoantibodies (MAF = 35.1%, OR = 1.86, p<10−19), nephritis (MAF = 34.3%, OR = 1.80, p<10−11), and age at diagnosis<30 years (MAF = 33.8%, OR = 1.77, p<10−13). An association with severe nephritis was even more striking (MAF = 39.2%, OR = 2.35, p<10−4 in the homogeneous subset of subjects). In contrast, STAT4 was less strongly associated with oral ulcers, a manifestation associated with milder disease. We conclude that this common polymorphism of STAT4 contributes to the phenotypic heterogeneity of SLE, predisposing specifically to more severe disease.
Author Summary
Systemic lupus erythematosus is a chronic disabling autoimmune disease, most commonly striking women in their thirties or forties. It can cause a wide variety of clinical manifestations, including kidney disease, arthritis, and skin disorders. Prognosis varies greatly depending on these clinical features, with kidney disease and related characteristics leading to greater morbidity and mortality. It is also complex genetically; while lupus runs in families, genes increase one’s risk for lupus but do not fully determine the outcome. It is thought that the interactions of multiple genes and/or interactions between genes and environmental factors may cause lupus, but the causes and disease pathways of this very heterogeneous disease are not well understood. By examining relationships between subtypes of lupus and specific genes, we hope to better understand how lupus is triggered and by what biological pathways it progresses. We show in this work that the STAT4 gene, very recently identified as a lupus risk gene, predisposes specifically to severe manifestations of lupus, including kidney disease.
PMCID: PMC2377340  PMID: 18516230
19.  Copy number variants in genetic susceptibility and severity of systemic lupus erythematosus 
Cytogenetic and Genome Research  2009;123(1-4):142-147.
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a systemic autoimmune disorder characterized by the presence of auto-antibodies to nuclear antigens, immune complex deposition, and subsequent tissue destruction. Early studies in twins suggested that SLE has, at least in part, a genetic basis, and a role for class II alleles in the major histocompatibility complex has been known for over 30 years. Through both linkage studies and candidate gene studies, numerous additional genetic risk factors have been identified. The recent publication of two SNP-based genome-wide association studies (GWAS) has resulted in the confirmation of a number of previously identified genetic risk loci and has identified new previously unappreciated loci conferring risk for development of SLE. A role for gene copy number variation (CNV) in SLE has also been appreciated through studies of the complement component 4 (C4) loci and more recent work in the IgG Fc receptor loci. The availability of large SNP-based GWAS datasets will undoubtedly lead to the genome-wide analysis and identification of copy number variants related to genetic susceptibility for development of SLE. We review current studies of CNV in SLE susceptibility that include reports of association between SLE and CNV in C4, IgG Fc receptors, TLR7, and CCL3L1.
PMCID: PMC2826785  PMID: 19287148
20.  A systemic sclerosis and systemic lupus erythematosus pan-meta-GWAS reveals new shared susceptibility loci 
Human Molecular Genetics  2013;22(19):4021-4029.
Systemic sclerosis (SSc) and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) are two archetypal systemic autoimmune diseases which have been shown to share multiple genetic susceptibility loci. In order to gain insight into the genetic basis of these diseases, we performed a pan-meta-analysis of two genome-wide association studies (GWASs) together with a replication stage including additional SSc and SLE cohorts. This increased the sample size to a total of 21 109 (6835 cases and 14 274 controls). We selected for replication 19 SNPs from the GWAS data. We were able to validate KIAA0319L (P = 3.31 × 10−11, OR = 1.49) as novel susceptibility loci for SSc and SLE. Furthermore, we also determined that the previously described SLE susceptibility loci PXK (P = 3.27 × 10−11, OR = 1.20) and JAZF1 (P = 1.11 × 10−8, OR = 1.13) are shared with SSc. Supporting these new discoveries, we observed that KIAA0319L was overexpressed in peripheral blood cells of SSc and SLE patients compared with healthy controls. With these, we add three (KIAA0319L, PXK and JAZF1) and one (KIAA0319L) new susceptibility loci for SSc and SLE, respectively, increasing significantly the knowledge of the genetic basis of autoimmunity.
PMCID: PMC3766185  PMID: 23740937
21.  Dense mapping of IL18 shows no association in SLE 
Human Molecular Genetics  2010;20(5):1026-1033.
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is an autoimmune disease which behaves as a complex genetic trait. At least 20 SLE risk susceptibility loci have been mapped using both candidate gene and genome-wide association strategies. The gene encoding the pro-inflammatory cytokine, IL18, has been reported as a candidate gene showing an association with SLE. This pleiotropic cytokine is expressed in a range of immune cells and has been shown to induce interferon-γ and tumour necrosis factor-α. Serum interleukin-18 has been reported to be elevated in patients with SLE. Here we aimed to densely map single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) across IL18 to investigate the association across this locus. We genotyped 36 across IL18 by Illumina bead express in 372 UK SLE trios. We also genotyped these SNPs in a further 508 non-trio UK cases and were able to accurately impute a dense marker set across IL18 in WTCCC2 controls with a total of 258 SNPs. To improve the study's power, we also imputed a total of 158 SNPs across the IL18 locus using data from an SLE genome-wide association study and performed association testing. In total, we analysed 1818 cases and 10 770 controls in this study. Our large well-powered study (98% to detect odds ratio = 1.5, with respect to rs360719) showed that no individual SNP or haplotype was associated with SLE in any of the cohorts studied. We conclude that we were unable to replicate the SLE association with rs360719 located upstream of IL18. No evidence for association with any other common variant at IL18 with SLE was found.
PMCID: PMC3033184  PMID: 21149337
22.  Risk Alleles for Systemic Lupus Erythematosus in a Large Case-Control Collection and Associations with Clinical Subphenotypes 
PLoS Genetics  2011;7(2):e1001311.
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a genetically complex disease with heterogeneous clinical manifestations. Recent studies have greatly expanded the number of established SLE risk alleles, but the distribution of multiple risk alleles in cases versus controls and their relationship to subphenotypes have not been studied. We studied 22 SLE susceptibility polymorphisms with previous genome-wide evidence of association (p<5×10−8) in 1919 SLE cases from 9 independent Caucasian SLE case series and 4813 independent controls. The mean number of risk alleles in cases was 15.1 (SD 3.1) while the mean in controls was 13.1 (SD 2.8), with trend p = 4×10−128. We defined a genetic risk score (GRS) for SLE as the number of risk alleles with each weighted by the SLE risk odds ratio (OR). The OR for high-low GRS tertiles, adjusted for intra-European ancestry, sex, and parent study, was 4.4 (95% CI 3.8–5.1). We studied associations of individual SNPs and the GRS with clinical manifestations for the cases: age at diagnosis, the 11 American College of Rheumatology classification criteria, and double-stranded DNA antibody (anti-dsDNA) production. Six subphenotypes were significantly associated with the GRS, most notably anti-dsDNA (ORhigh-low = 2.36, p = 9e−9), the immunologic criterion (ORhigh-low = 2.23, p = 3e−7), and age at diagnosis (ORhigh-low = 1.45, p = 0.0060). Finally, we developed a subphenotype-specific GRS (sub-GRS) for each phenotype with more power to detect cumulative genetic associations. The sub-GRS was more strongly associated than any single SNP effect for 5 subphenotypes (the above plus hematologic disorder and oral ulcers), while single loci are more significantly associated with renal disease (HLA-DRB1, OR = 1.37, 95% CI 1.14–1.64) and arthritis (ITGAM, OR = 0.72, 95% CI 0.59–0.88). We did not observe significant associations for other subphenotypes, for individual loci or the sub-GRS. Thus our analysis categorizes SLE subphenotypes into three groups: those having cumulative, single, and no known genetic association with respect to the currently established SLE risk loci.
Author Summary
Systemic lupus erythematosus is a chronic disabling autoimmune disease, most commonly striking women in their thirties or forties. It can cause a wide variety of clinical manifestations, including kidney disease, arthritis, and skin disorders. Prognosis varies greatly depending on these clinical features, with kidney disease and related characteristics leading to greater morbidity and mortality. It is also complex genetically; while lupus runs in families, genes increase one's risk for lupus but do not fully determine the outcome. The interactions of multiple genes and/or interactions between genes and environmental factors may cause lupus, but the causes and disease pathways of this very heterogeneous disease are not well understood. By examining relationships between the presence of multiple lupus risk genes, lupus susceptibility, and clinical manifestations, we hope to better understand how lupus is triggered and by what biological pathways it progresses. We show in this work that certain clinical manifestations of lupus are highly associated with cumulative genetic variations, i.e. multiple risk alleles, while others are associated with a single variation or none at all.
PMCID: PMC3040652  PMID: 21379322
23.  Trans-Ancestral Studies Fine Map the SLE-Susceptibility Locus TNFSF4 
PLoS Genetics  2013;9(7):e1003554.
We previously established an 80 kb haplotype upstream of TNFSF4 as a susceptibility locus in the autoimmune disease SLE. SLE-associated alleles at this locus are associated with inflammatory disorders, including atherosclerosis and ischaemic stroke. In Europeans, the TNFSF4 causal variants have remained elusive due to strong linkage disequilibrium exhibited by alleles spanning the region. Using a trans-ancestral approach to fine-map the locus, utilising 17,900 SLE and control subjects including Amerindian/Hispanics (1348 cases, 717 controls), African-Americans (AA) (1529, 2048) and better powered cohorts of Europeans and East Asians, we find strong association of risk alleles in all ethnicities; the AA association replicates in African-American Gullah (152,122). The best evidence of association comes from two adjacent markers: rs2205960-T (P = 1.71×10−34, OR = 1.43[1.26–1.60]) and rs1234317-T (P = 1.16×10−28, OR = 1.38[1.24–1.54]). Inference of fine-scale recombination rates for all populations tested finds the 80 kb risk and non-risk haplotypes in all except African-Americans. In this population the decay of recombination equates to an 11 kb risk haplotype, anchored in the 5′ region proximal to TNFSF4 and tagged by rs2205960-T after 1000 Genomes phase 1 (v3) imputation. Conditional regression analyses delineate the 5′ risk signal to rs2205960-T and the independent non-risk signal to rs1234314-C. Our case-only and SLE-control cohorts demonstrate robust association of rs2205960-T with autoantibody production. The rs2205960-T is predicted to form part of a decameric motif which binds NF-κBp65 with increased affinity compared to rs2205960-G. ChIP-seq data also indicate NF-κB interaction with the DNA sequence at this position in LCL cells. Our research suggests association of rs2205960-T with SLE across multiple groups and an independent non-risk signal at rs1234314-C. rs2205960-T is associated with autoantibody production and lymphopenia. Our data confirm a global signal at TNFSF4 and a role for the expressed product at multiple stages of lymphocyte dysregulation during SLE pathogenesis. We confirm the validity of trans-ancestral mapping in a complex trait.
Author Summary
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE/lupus) is a complex disease in which the body's immune cells cause inflammation in one or more systems to cause the associated morbidity. Hormones, the environment and genes are all causal contributors to SLE and over the past several years the genetic component of SLE has been firmly established. Several genes which are regulators of the immune system are associated with disease risk. We have established one of these, the tumour-necrosis family superfamily member 4 (TNFSF4) gene, as a lupus susceptibility gene in Northern Europeans. A major obstacle in pinpointing the marker(s) at TNFSF4 which best explain the risk of SLE has been the strong correlation (linkage disequilibrium, LD) between adjacent markers across the TNFSF4 region in this population. To address this, we have typed polymorphisms in several populations in addition to the European groups. The mixed ancestry of these populations gives a different LD pattern than that found in Europeans, presenting a method of pinpointing the section of the TNFSF4 region which results in SLE susceptibility. The Non-European populations have allowed identification of a polymorphism likely to regulate expression of TNFSF4 to increase susceptibility to SLE.
PMCID: PMC3715547  PMID: 23874208
24.  Study of the role of functional variants of SLC22A4, RUNX1 and SUMO4 in systemic lupus erythematosus 
Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases  2005;65(6):791-795.
Functional polymorphisms of the solute carrier family 22, member 4 (SLC22A4), runt related transcription factor 1 (RUNX1) and small ubiquitin‐like modifier 4 (SUMO4) genes have been shown to be associated with several autoimmune diseases.
To test the possible role of these variants in susceptibility to or severity of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), on the basis that common genetic bases are shared by autoimmune disorders.
597 SLE patients and 987 healthy controls of white Spanish origin were studied. Two additional cohorts of 228 SLE patients from Sweden and 122 SLE patients from Colombia were included. A case–control association study was carried out with six single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNP) spanning the SLC22A4 gene, one SNP in RUNX1 gene, and one additional SNP in SUM04 gene.
No significant differences were observed between SLE patients and healthy controls when comparing the distribution of the genotypes or alleles of any of the SLC22A4, RUNX1, or SUMO4 polymorphisms tested. Significant differences were found in the distribution of the SUMO4 genotypes and alleles among SLE patients with and without nephritis, but after multiple testing correction, the significance of the association was lost. The association of SUMO4 with nephritis could not be verified in two independent SLE cohorts from Sweden and Colombia.
These results suggest that the SLC22A4, RUNX1, and SUMO4 polymorphisms analysed do not play a role in the susceptibility to or severity of SLE.
PMCID: PMC1798171  PMID: 16249223
systemic lupus erythematosus; nephritis;  SLC22A4 gene;  RUNX1 gene;  SUMO4 gene
25.  Evidence of New Risk Genetic Factor to Systemic Lupus Erythematosus: The UBASH3A Gene 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(4):e60646.
The ubiquitin associated and Src-homology 3 (SH3) domain containing A (UBASH3a) is a suppressor of T-cell receptor signaling, underscoring antigen presentation to T-cells as a critical shared mechanism of diseases pathogenesis. The aim of the present study was to determine whether the UBASH3a gene influence the susceptibility to systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) in Caucasian populations. We evaluated five UBASH3a polymorphisms (rs2277798, rs2277800, rs9976767, rs13048049 and rs17114930), using TaqMan® allelic discrimination assays, in a discovery cohort that included 906 SLE patients and 1165 healthy controls from Spain. The SNPs that exhibit statistical significance difference were evaluated in a German replication cohort of 360 SLE patients and 379 healthy controls. The case-control analysis in the Spanish population showed a significant association between the rs9976767 and SLE (Pc = 9.9E-03 OR = 1.21 95%CI = 1.07–1.37) and a trend of association for the rs2277798 analysis (P = 0.09 OR = 0.9 95%CI = 0.79–1.02). The replication in a German cohort and the meta-analysis confirmed that the rs9976767 (Pc = 0.02; Pc = 2.4E-04, for German cohort and meta-analysis, respectively) and rs2277798 (Pc = 0.013; Pc = 4.7E-03, for German cohort and meta-analysis, respectively) UBASH3a variants are susceptibility factors for SLE. Finally, a conditional regression analysis suggested that the most likely genetic variation responsible for the association was the rs9976767 polymorphism. Our results suggest that UBASH3a gene plays a role in the susceptibility to SLE. Moreover, our study indicates that UBASH3a can be considered as a common genetic factor in autoimmune diseases.
PMCID: PMC3614928  PMID: 23565265

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