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1.  Functional genetic polymorphisms in ILT3 are associated with decreased surface expression on dendritic cells and increased serum cytokines in lupus patients 
Annals of the rheumatic diseases  2012;72(4):596-601.
Hyperactivity of the type I interferon (IFN) pathway is involved in the pathogenesis of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). Immunoglobulin like transcript (ILT3) is an immunohibitory transmembrane molecule which is induced by type I IFNs. ILT3 is expressed by plasmacytoid dendritic cells (PDCs), monocytoid dendritic cells (MDCs), and monocytes/macrophages. Given the pathogenic role of IFN in SLE, we hypothesised that the IFN-induced immunosuppressive ILT3 receptor may be dysfunctional in human SLE.
132 European-derived and 79 Hispanic-American SLE patients were genotyped for two coding-change single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) predicted to interfere with protein folding in ILT3 (rs11540761 and rs1048801). 116 control DNA samples and sera from healthy controls were also studied. We detected associations between ILT3 genotype and serum cytokine profiles. ILT3 expression levels on PDCs and MDCs from 18 patients and 10 controls were studied by flow cytometry.
The rs11540761 SNP in the extracellular region was associated with decreased cell surface expression of ILT3 on circulating MDCs and to a lesser extent PDCs in SLE patients. The cytoplasmically located rs1048801 SNP was not associated with a change in dendritic cells expression of ILT3. Both SNPs were significantly and independently associated with increased levels of serum type I IFN activity in SLE patients. The rs1048801 SNP was also associated with increased serum levels of TNF-α.
Loss-of-function polymorphisms in ILT3 are associated with increased inflammatory cytokine levels in SLE, supporting a biological role for ILT3 in SLE.
PMCID: PMC3910490  PMID: 22904259
2.  Genetic Variation near IRF8 is Associated with Serologic and Cytokine Profiles in Systemic Lupus Erythematosus and Multiple Sclerosis 
Genes and immunity  2013;14(8):10.1038/gene.2013.42.
Alleles of IRF8 are associated with susceptibility to both systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and multiple sclerosis (MS). While high type I interferon (IFN) is thought to be causal in SLE, type I IFN is used as a therapy in MS. We investigated whether IRF8 alleles were associated with type I IFN levels or serologic profiles in SLE and MS. Alleles which have been previously associated with SLE or MS were genotyped in SLE and MS patients. The MS-associated rs17445836G allele was associated with anti-dsDNA autoantibodies in SLE patients (meta-analysis OR=1.92). The same allele was associated with decreased serum IFN activity in SLE patients with anti-dsDNA antibodies, and with decreased type I IFN-induced gene expression in PBMC from anti-dsDNA negative SLE patients. In secondary progressive MS patients, rs17445836G was associated with decreased serum type I IFN. Rs17445836G was associated with increased IRF8 expression in SLE patient B cells. In summary, IRF8 rs17445836G is associated with human autoimmune disease characterized by low type I IFN levels, and this may have pharmacogenetic relevance as type I IFN is modulated in SLE and MS. The association with autoantibodies and increased IRF8 expression in B cells supports a role for rs17445836G in humoral tolerance.
PMCID: PMC3856198  PMID: 23965942
systemic lupus erythematosus; type I interferon; autoantibodies; interferon regulatory factors
3.  IRF5 SLE-Risk Haplotype is Associated with Asymptomatic Serologic Autoimmunity and Progression to Clinical Autoimmunity in Neonatal Lupus Mothers 
Arthritis and rheumatism  2012;64(10):3383-3387.
Genetic variation in interferon regulatory factor 5 (IRF5) has been associated with risk of developing systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), and this association is largely dependent upon anti-Ro autoantibodies. We studied a unique cohort of anti-Ro positive individuals with diverse diagnoses to determine if IRF5 genotype associated with maternal diagnosis or progression of autoimmunity.
We genotyped haplotype-tagging polymorphisms in IRF5 in 93 European ancestry subjects recruited to the Research Registry for Neonatal Lupus who all had high titer anti-Ro autoantibodies and a child with neonatal lupus (NL), and allele frequencies were compared to non-autoimmune controls. The mothers diagnoses included SLE, Sjogren’s syndrome (SS), undifferentiated autoimmune syndrome (UAS), and asymptomatic.
The SLE-risk haplotype of IRF5 was enriched in all anti-Ro positive subjects except those with SS (OR = 2.55, p=8.8×10−4). Even asymptomatic individuals with anti-Ro antibodies were enriched for the SLE-risk haplotype (OR=2.69, p=0.019). The same haplotype was more prevalent in subjects who were initially asymptomatic, but developed symptomatic SLE during follow up (OR=5.83, p=0.0024). Interestingly, SS was associated with two minor IRF5 haplotypes, and these same haplotypes were decreased in frequency in those with SLE and UAS.
The IRF5 SLE-risk haplotype was associated with anti-Ro antibodies in asymptomatic individuals as well as progression to SLE in asymptomatic anti-Ro positive individuals. SS in NL mothers was associated with different IRF5 haplotypes. These data suggest that IRF5 polymorphisms play a role in serologic autoimmunity in humans and may promote the progression to clinical autoimmunity.
PMCID: PMC3449035  PMID: 22674082
systemic lupus erythematosus; interferon; autoantibodies; neonatal lupus; Sjogren’s syndrome
4.  Type I interferon signature is high in lupus and neuromyelitis optica but low in multiple sclerosis 
Neuromyelitis optica (NMO) is characterized by selective inflammation of the spinal cord and optic nerves but is distinct from multiple sclerosis (MS). Interferon (IFN)-β mitigates disease activity in MS, but is controversial in NMO, with a few reports of disease worsening after IFN-β therapy in this highly active disease. In systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), IFNs adversely affect disease activity. This study examines for the first time whether serum IFN-α/β activity and IFN-β-induced responses in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (MNC) are abnormally elevated in NMO, as they are in SLE, but contrast to low levels in MS.
Serum type I IFN-α/β activity was measured by a previously validated bioassay of 3 IFN-stimulated genes (RT-PCR sensitivity, 0.1 U/ml) rather than ELISA, which has lower sensitivity and specificity for measuring serum IFNs. IFN responses in PBMNC were assessed by in vitro IFN-β-induced activation of phospho-tyrosine-STAT1 and phospho-serine-STAT1 transcription factors, and MxA proteins using Western blots.
Serum IFN-α/β activity was highest in SLE patients, followed by healthy subjects and NMO, but was surprisingly low in therapy-naïve MS. In functional assays in vitro, IFN-β-induced high levels of P-S-STAT1 in NMO and SLE, but not in MS and controls. IFN-β-induced MxA protein levels were elevated in NMO and SLE compared to MS.
Serum IFN activity and IFN-β-induced responses in PBMNC are elevated in SLE and NMO patients versus MS. This argues for similarities in pathophysiology between NMO and SLE and provides an explanation for IFN-induced disease worsening in NMO.
PMCID: PMC3910514  PMID: 22036215
NMO; MS; SLE; Interferon; STAT1; MxA
5.  Circulating cytokines in sarcoidosis: Phenotype-specific alterations for fibrotic and non-fibrotic pulmonary disease 
Cytokine  2013;61(3):906-911.
Sarcoidosis is a granulomatous disease of unknown etiology marked by tremendous clinical heterogeneity. Many patients enter remission with good long-term outcomes. Yet, chronic disease is not uncommon, and this important phenotype remains understudied. Identified alterations in local and circulating cytokines—specifically targeted for study, and often in the acute phase of disease—have informed our growing understanding of the immunopathogenesis of sarcoidosis. Our aim was to evaluate a broad panel of circulating cytokines in patients with chronic sarcoidosis. Among those with chronic disease, pulmonary fibrosis occurs in only a subset. To gain more insight into the determinants of the fibrotic response, we also determined if the phenotypes of fibrotic and non-fibrotic pulmonary sarcoidosis have distinct cytokine profiles.
In patients with sarcoidosis compared to controls, IL-5 was decreased, and IL-7 was increased. Both of these comparisons withstood rigorous statistical correction for multiple comparisons. GM-CSF met a nominal level of significance. We also detected an effect of phenotype, where IL-5 was significantly decreased in non-fibrotic compared to fibrotic pulmonary sarcoidosis, and compared to controls. Compared to controls, there was a trend towards a significant increase in IL-7 in fibrotic, but not in non-fibrotic pulmonary sarcoidosis. In contrast, compared to controls, there was a trend towards a significant increase in GM-CSF in non-fibrotic, but not in fibrotic pulmonary sarcoidosis.
In a comprehensive evaluation of circulating cytokines in sarcoidosis, we found IL-5, IL-7, and GM-CSF to be altered. These findings provide a window into the immunopathogenesis of sarcoidosis. IL-7 is a novel sarcoidosis cytokine and, as a master regulator of lymphocytes, is an attractive target for further studies. By observing an effect of phenotype upon cytokine patterns, we also identify specific immune alterations which may contribute to clinical heterogeneity.
PMCID: PMC3615886  PMID: 23384655
Sarcoidosis; Cytokines; Interleukin-5; Interleukin-7; Pulmonary fibrosis
6.  Nucleic Acid Sensors and Type I Interferon Production in Systemic Lupus Erythematosus 
The characteristic serologic feature of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is autoantibodies against one’s own nucleic acid or nucleic acid-binding proteins – DNA and RNA-binding nuclear proteins. Circulating autoantibodies can deposit in the tissue, causing inflammation and production of cytokines such as type 1 interferon (IFN). Investigations in human patients and animal models have implicated environmental as well as genetic factors in the biology of the SLE autoimmune response. Viral/Bacterial nucleic acid is a potent stimulant of innate immunity by both toll-like receptor (TLR) and non-TLR signaling cascades. Additionally, foreign DNA may act as an immunogen to drive an antigen-specific antibody response. Self nucleic acid is normally restricted to the nucleus or the mitochondria, away from the DNA/RNA sensors, and mechanisms exist to differentiate between foreign and self nucleic acid. In normal immunity, a diverse range of DNA and RNA sensors in different cell types form a dynamic and integrated molecular network to prevent viral infection. In SLE, pathologic activation of these sensors occurs via immune complexes consisting of autoantibodies bound to DNA or to nucleic acid-protein complexes. In this review, we will discuss recent studies outlining how mismanaged nucleic acid sensing networks promote autoimmunity and result in the over-production of type I IFN. This information is critical for improving therapeutic strategies for SLE disease.
PMCID: PMC3791549  PMID: 24109483
systemic lupus erythematosus; nucleic acid sensor; type 1 interferon; TLR; DNA; RNA
7.  Interferon Alpha as a Primary Pathogenic Factor in Human Lupus 
Interferon alpha (IFN-α) is a critical mediator of human systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). This review will summarize evidence supporting the role for IFN-α in the initiation of human SLE. IFN-α functions in viral immunity at the interface of innate and adaptive immunity, a position well suited to setting thresholds for autoimmunity. Some individuals treated with IFN-α for chronic viral infections develop de novo SLE, which frequently resolves when IFN-α is withdrawn, supporting the idea that IFN-α was causal. Abnormally high IFN-α levels are clustered within SLE families, suggesting that high serum IFN-α is a heritable risk factor for SLE. Additionally, SLE-risk genetic variants in the IFN-α pathway are gain of function in nature, resulting in either higher circulating IFN-α levels or greater sensitivity to IFN-α signaling in SLE patients. A recent genome-wide association study has identified additional novel genetic loci associated with high serum IFN-α in SLE patients. These data support the idea that genetically determined endogenous elevations in IFN-α predispose to human SLE. It is possible that some of these gain-of-function polymorphisms in the IFN-α pathway are useful in viral defense, and that risk of SLE is a burden we have taken on in the fight to defend ourselves against viral infection.
PMCID: PMC3234490  PMID: 21923413
8.  Inhibition of Interferon-beta Responses in Multiple Sclerosis Immune Cells Associated With High-Dose Statins 
Archives of neurology  2012;69(10):1303-1309.
To determine whether statins affect type 1 interferon responses in relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS).
Study effects of atorvastatin on type 1 interferon responses in Jurkat cells, mononuclear cells (MNCs) from therapy-naive patients with RRMS in vitro, and MNCs from interferon-treated RRMS patients in vivo in 4 conditions: no drug, statin only, interferon-beta only, and statin added on to interferon-beta therapy.
The study examined clinically stable patients with RRMS: 21 therapy-naive patients and 14 patients receiving interferon-beta with a statin.
Statin effects on in vitro and in vivo interferon-beta–induced STAT1 transcription factor activation, expression of interferon-stimulated proteins in MNCs, and serum type 1 interferon activity.
In vitro, atorvastatin dose dependently inhibited expression of interferon-stimulated P-Y-STAT1 by 44% (P< .001), interferon regulatory factor 1 protein by 30% (P= .006), and myxovirus resistance 1 protein by 32% (P=.004) compared with no-statin control in MNCs from therapy-naive RRMS patients. In vivo, 9 of 10 patients who received high-dose statins (80 mg) had a significant reduction in interferon-beta therapy–induced serum interferon-α/β activity, whereas only 2 of 4 patients who received medium-dose statins (40 mg) had reductions. High-dose add-on statin therapy significantly blocked interferon-beta function, with less P-Y-STAT1 transcription factor activation, and reduced myxovirus resistance 1 protein and viperin protein production. Medium doses of statins did not change STAT1 activation.
High-dose add-on statin therapy significantly reduces interferon-beta function and type 1 interferon responses in RRMS patients. These data provide a putative mechanism for how statins could counteract the beneficial effects of interferon-beta and worsen disease.
PMCID: PMC3910505  PMID: 22801747
9.  The clinical and immunologic features of pulmonary fibrosis in sarcoidosis 
Sarcoidosis is a multisystem, granulomatous disease that most often affects the lungs. The clinical course is highly variable; many patients undergo spontaneous remission, but up to a third of patients progresses to a chronic disease course. The development of pulmonary fibrosis (PF) in a subset of patients with chronic disease has a negative impact on morbidity and mortality. While sarcoidosis-associated PF can be progressive, it is often referred to as “burnt out” disease, a designation reflecting inactive granulomatous inflammation. The immune mechanisms of sarcoidosis-associated PF are not well understood. It is not clear if fibrotic processes are active from the onset of sarcoidosis in predisposed individuals, or whether a profibrotic state develops as a response to ongoing inflammation. Transforming growth factor β (TGF-β) is an important profibrotic cytokine, and in sarcoidosis, distinct genotypes of TGF-β have been identified in those with PF. The overall cytokine profile in sarcoidosis-associated PF has not been well characterized, although a transition from a T helper 1 to a T helper 2 signature has been proposed. Macrophages have important regulatory interactions with fibroblasts, and the role of alveolar macrophages in sarcoidosis-associated PF is a compelling target for further study. Elucidating the natural history of sarcoidosis-associated PF will inform our understanding of the fundamental derangements, and will enhance prognostication and the development of therapeutic strategies.
PMCID: PMC3910531  PMID: 22683422
10.  Interferon Regulatory Factor 5 in the Pathogenesis of Systemic Lupus Erythematosus 
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is an autoimmune disease characterized by multiple genetic risk factors, high levels of interferon alpha (IFN-α), and the production of autoantibodies against components of the cell nucleus. Interferon regulatory factor 5 (IRF5) is a transcription factor which induces the transcription of IFN-α and other cytokines, and genetic variants of IRF5 have been strongly linked to SLE pathogenesis. IRF5 functions downstream of Toll-like receptors and other microbial pattern-recognition receptors, and immune complexes made up of SLE-associated autoantibodies seem to function as a chronic endogenous stimulus to this pathway. In this paper, we discuss the physiologic role of IRF5 in immune defense and the ways in which IRF5 variants may contribute to the pathogenesis of human SLE. Recent data regarding the role of IRF5 in both serologic autoimmunity and the overproduction of IFN-α in human SLE are summarized. These data support a model in which SLE-risk variants of IRF5 participate in a “feed-forward” mechanism, predisposing to SLE-associated autoantibody formation, and subsequently facilitating IFN-α production downstream of Toll-like receptors stimulated by immune complexes composed of these autoantibodies.
PMCID: PMC3509422  PMID: 23251221
11.  Interferon Regulatory Factors in Human Lupus Pathogenesis 
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a severe multi-system autoimmune disease which results from both genetic predisposition and environmental factors. Many lines of investigation support interferon alpha (IFN-α) as a causal agent in human lupus, and high levels of serum IFN-α are a heritable risk factor for SLE. Interferon regulatory factors (IRFs) are a family of transcription factors involved in host defense, which can induce transcription of IFN-α and other immune response genes following activation. In SLE, circulating immune complexes which contain nucleic acid are prevalent. These complexes are recognized by endosomal Toll-like receptors, resulting in activation of downstream IRF proteins. Genetic variants in the IRF5 and IRF7 genes have been associated with SLE susceptibility, and these same variants are associated with increased serum IFN-α in SLE patients. The increase in serum IFN-α related to IRF5 and 7 genotypes is observed only in patients with particular antibody specificities. This suggests that chronic stimulation of the endosomal Toll-like receptors by autoantibody immune complexes is required for IRF SLE-risk variants to cause elevation of circulating IFN-α and subsequent risk of SLE. Recently, genetic variation in the IRF8 gene has been associated with SLE and multiple sclerosis, and studies support an impact of IRF8 genotype on the IFN-α pathway. In summary, the SLE-associated polymorphisms in the IRF family of proteins appear to be gain-of-function variants, and understanding the impact of these variants upon the IFN-α pathway in vivo may guide therapeutic strategies directed at the Toll-like receptor/IRF/IFN-α pathway in SLE.
PMCID: PMC3096827  PMID: 21575916
Interferon Alpha; Genetics; Systemic Lupus Erythematosus; Interferon Regulatory Factor; Autoantibodies; Autoimmunity
12.  Familial Aggregation of High Tumor Necrosis Factor Alpha Levels in Systemic Lupus Erythematosus 
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) patients frequently have high circulating tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α) levels. We explored circulating TNF-α levels in SLE families to determine whether high levels of TNF-α were clustered in a heritable pattern. We measured TNF-α in 242 SLE patients, 361 unaffected family members, 23 unaffected spouses of SLE patients, and 62 unrelated healthy controls. Familial correlations and relative recurrence risk rates for the high TNF-α trait were assessed. SLE-affected individuals had the highest TNF-α levels, and TNF-α was significantly higher in unaffected first degree relatives than healthy unrelated subjects (P = 0.0025). No Mendelian patterns were observed, but 28.4% of unaffected first degree relatives of SLE patients had high TNF-α levels, resulting in a first degree relative recurrence risk of 4.48 (P = 2.9 × 10−5). Interestingly, the median TNF-α value in spouses was similar to that of the first degree relatives. Concordance of the TNF-α trait (high versus low) in SLE patients and their spouses was strikingly high at 78.2%. These data support a role for TNF-α in SLE pathogenesis, and TNF-α levels may relate with heritable factors. The high degree of concordance in SLE patients and their spouses suggests that environmental factors may also play a role in the observed familial aggregation.
PMCID: PMC3800640  PMID: 24187561
13.  Genetic Regulation of Serum Cytokines in Systemic Lupus Erythematosus 
Genetic association studies in systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) have been extremely successful in recent years, identifying a number of loci associated with disease susceptibility. Much work remains to integrate these loci into the functional pathogenic pathways which characterize the disease. Our working hypothesis is that many of the genetic variations linked to SLE and autoimmunity mediate risk of disease by altering cytokine profiles or responses to cytokine signaling. Genetic polymorphisms affecting cytokine signaling could alter thresholds for immune responses, resulting in pro-inflammatory presentation of self antigens and the subsequent misdirection of adaptive immunity against self which is observed in autoimmune disease. SLE is clinically heterogeneous and genetically complex, and we expect that individual genes and cytokine patterns will be more or less important to different disease manifestations and subgroups of patients. Defining these genotype-cytokine-phenotype relationships will increase our understanding of both initial disease pathogenesis as well as subsequent response/non-response to various therapies. In this review we summarize some recent work in the area of SLE cytokine genetics, and describe the implications for SLE, autoimmunity, and immune system homeostasis which are revealed by these investigations.
PMCID: PMC2827336  PMID: 20171594
14.  Genetic Variation at the IRF7/PHRF1 Locus Is Associated With Autoantibody Profile and Serum Interferon-α Activity in Lupus Patients 
Arthritis and rheumatism  2010;62(2):553-561.
Interferon-α (IFNα) is a heritable risk factor for systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). Genetic variation near IRF7 is implicated in SLE susceptibility. SLE-associated autoantibodies can stimulate IFNα production through the Toll-like receptor/IRF7 pathway. This study was undertaken to determine whether variants of IRF7 act as risk factors for SLE by increasing IFNα production and whether autoantibodies are important to this phenomenon.
We studied 492 patients with SLE (236 African American, 162 European American, and 94 Hispanic American subjects). Serum levels of IFNα were measured using a reporter cell assay, and single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in the IRF7/PHRF1 locus were genotyped.
In a joint analysis of European American and Hispanic American subjects, the rs702966 C allele was associated with the presence of anti–double-stranded DNA (anti-dsDNA) antibodies (odds ratio [OR] 1.83, P = 0.0069). The rs702966 CC genotype was only associated with higher serum levels of IFNα in European American and Hispanic American patients with anti-dsDNA antibodies (joint analysis P = 4.1 × 10−5 in anti-dsDNA–positive patients and P = 0.99 in anti-dsDNA–negative patients). In African American subjects, anti-Sm antibodies were associated with the rs4963128 SNP near IRF7 (OR 1.95, P = 0.0017). The rs4963128 CT and TT genotypes were associated with higher serum levels of IFNα only in African American patients with anti-Sm antibodies (P = 0.0012). In African American patients lacking anti-Sm antibodies, an effect of anti-dsDNA–rs702966 C allele interaction on serum levels of IFNα was observed, similar to the other patient groups (overall joint analysis P = 1.0 × 10−6). In European American and Hispanic American patients, the IRF5 SLE risk haplotype showed an additive effect with the rs702966 C allele on IFNα level in anti-dsDNA–positive patients.
Our findings indicate that IRF7/PHRF1 variants in combination with SLE-associated autoantibodies result in higher serum levels of IFNα, providing a biologic relevance for this locus at the protein level in human SLE in vivo.
PMCID: PMC2832192  PMID: 20112359
15.  Large Scale Analysis of Tumor Necrosis Factor Alpha Levels in Systemic Lupus Erythematosus 
Arthritis and rheumatism  2012;64(9):2947-2952.
SLE disease manifestations are highly variable between patients, and the prevalence of individual clinical features differs significantly by ancestry. Serum tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α) is elevated in some SLE patients, and may play a role in disease pathogenesis. We detected associations between serum TNF-α, clinical manifestations, autoantibodies, and serum IFN-α in a large multi-ancestral SLE cohort.
We studied serum TNF-α in 653 SLE patients, including 214 African-American, 298 European-Americans and 141 Hispanic-American subjects. TNF-α was measured using ELISA, and IFN-α was measured with a functional reporter cell assay. Stratified and multivariate analyses were used to detect associations in each ancestral background separately, with meta-analysis when appropriate.
Serum TNF-α levels were significantly higher in SLE patients than in nonautoimmune controls (p<5.0×10−3 for each ancestral background). High serum TNF-α was positively correlated with high serum IFN-α when tested in the same sample across all ancestral backgrounds (meta-analysis OR=1.8, p=1.2×10−3). While serum TNF-α levels alone did not differ significantly between SLE patients of different ancestral backgrounds, the proportion of patients with concurrently high TNF-α and high IFN-α was highest in African-Americans and lowest in European-Americans (p=5.0×10−3). Serum TNF-α was not associated with autoantibodies, clinical criteria for the diagnosis of SLE, or age at time of sample.
Serum TNF-α levels are high in many SLE patients, and we observed a positive correlation between serum TNF-α and IFN-α. These data support a role for TNF-α in SLE pathogenesis across all ancestral backgrounds, and suggest important cytokine subgroups within the disease.
PMCID: PMC3396783  PMID: 22488302
systemic lupus erythematosus; tumor necrosis factor alpha; autoantibodies, ancestry
16.  Interferon Alpha in Systemic Lupus Erythematosus 
The pleiotropic cytokine interferon alpha is involved in multiple aspects of lupus etiology and pathogenesis. Interferon alpha is important under normal circumstances for antiviral responses and immune activation. However, heightened levels of serum interferon alpha and expression of interferon response genes are common in lupus patients. Lupus-associated autoantibodies can drive the production of interferon alpha and heightened levels of interferon interfere with immune regulation. Several genes in the pathways leading to interferon production or signaling are associated with risk for lupus. Clinical and cellular manifestations of excess interferon alpha in lupus combined with the genetic risk factors associated with interferon make this cytokine a rare bridge between genetic risk and phenotypic effects. Interferon alpha influences the clinical picture of lupus and may represent a therapeutic target. This paper provides an overview of the cellular, genetic, and clinical aspects of interferon alpha in lupus.
PMCID: PMC2896914  PMID: 20652065
17.  Variable association of reactive intermediate genes with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) in populations with different African ancestry 
The Journal of rheumatology  2013;40(6):842-849.
Little is known about the genetic etiology of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) in individuals of African ancestry, despite its higher prevalence and greater disease severity. Overproduction of nitric oxide (NO) and reactive oxygen species are implicated in the pathogenesis and severity of SLE, making NO synthases and other reactive intermediate related genes biological candidates for disease susceptibility. This study analyzed variation in reactive intermediate genes for association with SLE in two populations with African ancestry.
A total of 244 SNPs from 53 regions were analyzed in non-Gullah African Americans (AA; 1432 cases and 1687 controls) and the genetically more homogeneous Gullah of the Sea Islands of South Carolina (133 cases and 112 controls) and. Single-marker, haplotype, and two-locus interaction tests were computed for these populations.
The glutathione reductase gene GSR (rs2253409, P=0.0014, OR [95% CI]=1.26 [1.09–1.44]) was the most significant single-SNP association in AA. In the Gullah, the NADH dehydrogenase NDUFS4 (rs381575, P=0.0065, OR [95%CI]=2.10 [1.23–3.59]) and nitric oxide synthase gene NOS1 (rs561712, P=0.0072, OR [95%CI]=0.62 [0.44–0.88]) were most strongly associated with SLE. When both populations were analyzed together, GSR remained the most significant effect (rs2253409, P=0.00072, OR [95%CI]=1.26 [1.10–1.44]). Haplotype and two-locus interaction analyses also uncovered different loci in each population.
These results suggest distinct patterns of association with SLE in African-derived populations; specific loci may be more strongly associated within select population groups.
PMCID: PMC3735344  PMID: 23637325
systemic lupus erythematosus; African Americans; genetic association studies; oxygen compounds; single nucleotide polymorphism
18.  Elevated Serum Interferon Alpha Activity in Juvenile Dermatomyositis: Associations with Disease Activity at Diagnosis and After 36 Months of Therapy 
Arthritis and rheumatism  2009;60(6):1815-1824.
Interferon alpha (IFN-α) has been implicated in the pathogenesis of juvenile dermatomyositis (JDM). We examined serum IFN-α activity in a cohort of children with JDM to determine relationships between IFN-α and indicators of disease activity and severity.
39 children with definite/probable JDM were included in the study. Samples were studied from 18 newly diagnosed untreated children, and 11 of these children had a second sample taken at 24 months while they were receiving treatment. 7 of these children also had a third sample available at 36 months, and 21 additional children were studied 36 months after their initial diagnosis. Serum IFN-α was measured using a functional reporter cell assay.
JDM patients had higher serum IFN-α activity than both pediatric and adult healthy controls. In untreated patients, serum IFN-α activity was positively correlated with serum muscle enzymes (p<0.05 for CPK, AST, and aldolase) and inversely correlated with duration of untreated disease (p=0.017). The TNF-α-308A allele was associated with higher serum IFN-α only in untreated patients (p=0.038). At 36 months, serum IFN-α was inversely correlated with muscle enzymes in those patients still requiring therapy, and inversely correlated with skin DAS in those who had completed therapy (p=0.002).
Serum IFN-α activity was associated with higher serum levels of muscle derived enzymes and shorter duration of untreated disease in newly diagnosed patients, and inversely correlated with measures of chronic disease activity at 36 months post-diagnosis. These data suggest that IFN-α could play a role in disease initiation in JDM.
PMCID: PMC2697261  PMID: 19479879
19.  Cutting Edge: Autoimmune Disease Risk Variant of STAT4 Confers Increased Sensitivity to IFN-α in Lupus Patients In Vivo1 
Increased IFN-α signaling is a primary pathogenic factor in systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). STAT4 is a transcription factor that is activated by IFN-α signaling, and genetic variation of STAT4 has been associated with risk of SLE and rheumatoid arthritis. We measured serum IFN-α activity and simultaneous IFN-α-induced gene expression in PBMC in a large SLE cohort. The risk variant of STAT4 (T allele; rs7574865) was simultaneously associated with both lower serum IFN-α activity and greater IFN-α-induced gene expression in PBMC in SLE patients in vivo. Regression analyses confirmed that the risk allele of STAT4 was associated with increased sensitivity to IFN-α signaling. The IFN regulatory factor 5 SLE risk genotype was associated with higher serum IFN-α activity; however, STAT4 showed dominant influence on the sensitivity of PBMC to serum IFN-α. These data provide biologic relevance for the risk variant of STAT4 in the IFN-α pathway in vivo.
PMCID: PMC2716754  PMID: 19109131
20.  Serum Type I Interferon Activity Is Dependent on Maternal Diagnosis in Anti-SSA/Ro–Positive Mothers of Children With Neonatal Lupus 
Arthritis and rheumatism  2008;58(2):541-546.
The type I interferon (IFN) pathway is activated in many patients with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), and high serum levels of IFN are associated with anti-SSA/Ro autoantibodies. To investigate the clinical features associated with type I IFN production in vivo, we compared serum IFN activity in individuals with anti-SSA/Ro antibodies who were asymptomatic with that in individuals with clinical manifestations of SLE or Sjögren's syndrome (SS).
Antibody-positive sera from 84 mothers of children with manifestations of neonatal lupus were studied for type I IFN activity, using a functional reporter cell assay. Maternal health status was characterized as asymptomatic, SS, SLE, pauci-SLE, or pauci-SS, based on a screening questionnaire, telephone interview, and review of medical records. The prefix “pauci-” indicates symptoms insufficient for a formal classification of the disease.
Only 4% of asymptomatic mothers had high serum type I IFN activity, compared with 73% with pauci-SLE (P = 5.7 × 10−5), 35% with SLE (P = 0.011), and 32% of patients with SS (P = 0.032). One of the 4 patients with pauci-SS had high levels of IFN. The majority of patients for whom longitudinal data were available had stable type I IFN activity over time, and changes in IFN activity were not clearly accompanied by changes in the clinical diagnosis.
Patients with SLE, patients with pauci-SLE, and patients with SS are more likely to have high serum IFN activity than asymptomatic individuals with SSA/Ro autoantibodies, suggesting that these autoantibodies are insufficient for activation of the type I IFN pathway, and that disease-specific factors are important for type I IFN generation in vivo.
PMCID: PMC2755051  PMID: 18240214
22.  PTPN22 C1858T Polymorphism is Associated with Skewing of Cytokine Profiles Toward High IFN-α Activity and Low TNF-α in Lupus Patients 
Arthritis and rheumatism  2008;58(9):2818-2823.
The C1858T polymorphism in PTPN22 has been associated with risk of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), as well as multiple other autoimmune diseases. We have previously shown that high serum interferon alpha (IFN-α) activity is a heritable risk factor for SLE, and we hypothesized that the PTPN22 risk variant may shift serum cytokine profiles to higher IFN-α activity resulting in risk of disease.
IFN-α was measured in 143 SLE patients using a functional reporter cell assay, and TNF-α was measured with ELISA. The rs2476601 SNP in PTPN22 (C1858T) was genotyped in the same patients. Patients were grouped using a clustering algorithm into four cytokine groups (IFN-α predominant, IFN-α and TNF-α correlated, TNF-α predominant, and IFN-α and TNF-α both low).
SLE patients carrying the risk allele of PTPN22 had higher serum IFN-α activity than patients lacking the risk allele (p=0.027). TNF-α levels were lower in risk allele carriers (p=0.030), and the risk allele was more common in patients with an IFN-α predominant or IFN-α and TNF-α correlated cytokine profile as compared to patients with TNF-α predominance or both cytokines low (p=0.002). 25% of male patients carried the risk allele, compared to 10% of female patients (p=0.02), however cytokine skewing was similar in both sexes.
The autoimmune disease risk allele of PTPN22 is associated with skewing of serum cytokine profiles toward higher IFN-α activity and lower TNF-α in SLE patients in vivo. This serum cytokine pattern may be relevant in other autoimmune diseases associated with the PTPN22 risk allele.
PMCID: PMC2621106  PMID: 18759295
23.  Age- and Sex-Related Patterns of Serum Interferon-α Activity in Lupus Families 
Arthritis and rheumatism  2008;58(7):2113-2119.
Interferon-α (IFNα) levels are elevated in many patients with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and may play a primary role in its pathogenesis. The purpose of this study was to determine whether serum IFNα activity in SLE patients and their healthy first-degree relatives is highest in early adulthood, when the incidence of SLE is greatest.
Serum samples from 315 SLE patients, 359 healthy first-degree relatives, and 141 healthy unrelated donors were measured for IFNα activity using a functional reporter cell assay. IFNα activity was analyzed in relation to age, and subgroups with high levels of IFNα activity were identified within the large data sets using a Mann-Whitney sliding window segmentation algorithm. The significance of each subgrouping was ranked by Kruskal-Wallis testing.
Age was inversely correlated with IFNα activity in female SLE patients (r = −0.20, P = 0.001) as well as their healthy female first-degree relatives (r = −0.16, P = 0.02). In male patients and their healthy male first-degree relatives, there was no significant overall correlation between age and serum IFNα activity. The segmentation algorithm revealed significantly increased IFNα activity between the ages of 12 and 22 years in female SLE patients and between the ages of 16 and 29 years in male SLE patients. Both male and female healthy first-degree relatives had significantly decreased IFNα activity after the age of 50 years.
Serum IFNα activity is higher in younger individuals in the SLE family cohorts, and this tendency is accentuated in affected individuals. This age-related pattern of IFNα activity may contribute to the increased incidence of SLE in early adulthood, and interestingly, males and females had similar age-related patterns of IFNα activity.
PMCID: PMC2729701  PMID: 18576315
24.  Genetic Ancestry, Serum Interferon-α Activity, and Autoantibodies in Systemic Lupus Erythematosus 
The Journal of Rheumatology  2012;39(6):1238-1240.
To investigate and refine the relationships among systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and related autoantibodies, interferon-α (IFN-α), and various ancestral backgrounds.
We investigated quantitatively defined genetic ancestry through principal component analysis in place of self-reported ancestry.
African ancestry was found to be associated with presence of anti-RNP antibody (p = 0.0026), and anti-RNP was correlated with high levels of IFN-α (p = 2.8 × 10−5).
Our data support a model in which African ancestry increases the likelihood of SLE-associated autoantibody formation, which subsequently results in higher levels of serum IFN-α.
PMCID: PMC3381952  PMID: 22505704
25.  Analysis of autosomal genes reveals gene–sex interactions and higher total genetic risk in men with systemic lupus erythematosus 
Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases  2011;71(5):694-699.
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a sexually dimorphic autoimmune disease which is more common in women, but affected men often experience a more severe disease. The genetic basis of sexual dimorphism in SLE is not clearly defined. A study was undertaken to examine sex-specific genetic effects among SLE susceptibility loci.
A total of 18 autosomal genetic susceptibility loci for SLE were genotyped in a large set of patients with SLE and controls of European descent, consisting of 5932 female and 1495 male samples. Sex-specific genetic association analyses were performed. The sex–gene interaction was further validated using parametric and nonparametric methods. Aggregate differences in sex-specific genetic risk were examined by calculating a cumulative genetic risk score for SLE in each individual and comparing the average genetic risk between male and female patients.
A significantly higher cumulative genetic risk for SLE was observed in men than in women. (P = 4.52×10−8) A significant sex–gene interaction was seen primarily in the human leucocyte antigen (HLA) region but also in IRF5, whereby men with SLE possess a significantly higher frequency of risk alleles than women. The genetic effect observed in KIAA1542 is specific to women with SLE and does not seem to have a role in men.
The data indicate that men require a higher cumulative genetic load than women to develop SLE. These observations suggest that sex bias in autoimmunity could be influenced by autosomal genetic susceptibility loci.
PMCID: PMC3324666  PMID: 22110124

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