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.
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.