Altered signaling in B-cells is a predominant feature of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). The genes BANK1 and BLK were recently described as associated with SLE. BANK1 codes for a B-cell-specific cytoplasmic protein involved in B-cell receptor signaling and BLK codes for an Src tyrosine kinase with important roles in B-cell development. To characterize the role of BANK1 and BLK in SLE, we performed a genetic interaction analysis hypothesizing that genetic interactions could reveal functional pathways relevant to disease pathogenesis.
We Used the method GPAT16 to analyze the gene-gene interactions of BANK1 and BLK. Confocal microscopy was used to investigate co-localization, and immunoprecipitation was used to verify the physical interaction of BANK1 and BLK.
Epistatic interactions between BANK1 and BLK polymorphisms associated with SLE were observed in a discovery set of 279 patients and 515 controls from Northern Europe. A meta-analysis with 4399 European individuals confirmed the genetic interactions between BANK1 and BLK.
As BANK1 was identified as a binding partner of the Src tyrosine kinase LYN, we tested the possibility that BANK1 and BLK could also show a protein-protein interaction. We demonstrated co-immunoprecipitation and co-localization of BLK and BANK1. In a Daudi cell line and primary naïve B-cells the endogenous binding was enhanced upon B-cell receptor stimulation using anti-IgM antibodies.
Here, we show a genetic interaction between BANK1 and BLK, and demonstrate that these molecules interact physically. Our results have important consequences for the understanding of SLE and other autoimmune diseases and identify a potential new signaling pathway.