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1.  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.
doi:10.1038/gene.2013.42
PMCID: PMC3856198  PMID: 23965942
systemic lupus erythematosus; type I interferon; autoantibodies; interferon regulatory factors
2.  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.
Objective
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.
Methods
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.
Results
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.
Conclusions
Loss-of-function polymorphisms in ILT3 are associated with increased inflammatory cytokine levels in SLE, supporting a biological role for ILT3 in SLE.
doi:10.1136/annrheumdis-2012-202024
PMCID: PMC3910490  PMID: 22904259
3.  Autoimmune Disease Genetics 
doi:10.1155/2012/262858
PMCID: PMC3540923  PMID: 23320016
4.  Type I interferon signature is high in lupus and neuromyelitis optica but low in multiple sclerosis 
Objective
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.
Methods
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.
Results
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.
Conclusions
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.
doi:10.1016/j.jns.2011.09.032
PMCID: PMC3910514  PMID: 22036215
NMO; MS; SLE; Interferon; STAT1; MxA
5.  End-Stage Renal Disease in African Americans With Lupus Nephritis Is Associated With APOL1 
Objective
Lupus nephritis (LN) is a severe manifestation of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) that exhibits familial aggregation and may progress to end-stage renal disease (ESRD). LN is more prevalent among African Americans than among European Americans. This study was undertaken to investigate the hypothesis that the apolipoprotein L1 gene (APOL1) nephropathy risk alleles G1/G2, common in African Americans and rare in European Americans, contribute to the ethnic disparity in risk.
Methods
APOL1 G1 and G2 nephropathy alleles were genotyped in 855 African American SLE patients with LN-ESRD (cases) and 534 African American SLE patients without nephropathy (controls) and tested for association under a recessive genetic model, by logistic regression.
Results
Ninety percent of the SLE patients were female. The mean ± SD age at SLE diagnosis was significantly lower in LN-ESRD cases than in SLE non-nephropathy controls (27.3 ± 10.9 years versus 39.5 ± 12.2 years). The mean ± SD time from SLE diagnosis to development of LN-ESRD in cases was 7.3 ± 7.2 years. The G1/G2 risk alleles were strongly associated with SLE-ESRD, with 25% of cases and 12% of controls having 2 nephropathy alleles (odds ratio [OR] 2.57, recessive model P = 1.49 × 10−9), and after adjustment for age, sex, and ancestry admixture (OR 2.72, P = 6.23 × 10−6). The age-, sex-, and admixture-adjusted population attributable risk for ESRD among patients with G1/G2 polymorphisms was 0.26, compared to 0.003 among European American patients. The mean time from SLE diagnosis to ESRD development was ~2 years earlier among individuals with APOL1 risk genotypes (P = 0.01).
Conclusion
APOL1 G1/G2 alleles strongly impact the risk of LN-ESRD in African Americans, as well as the time to progression to ESRD. The high frequency of these alleles in African Americans with near absence in European Americans explains an important proportion of the increased risk of LN-ESRD in African Americans.
doi:10.1002/art.38220
PMCID: PMC4002759  PMID: 24504811
6.  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.
Objective
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.
Methods
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.
Results
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.
Conclusions
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.
doi:10.1002/art.34571
PMCID: PMC3449035  PMID: 22674082
systemic lupus erythematosus; interferon; autoantibodies; neonatal lupus; Sjogren’s syndrome
7.  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.
doi:10.1155/2013/267430
PMCID: PMC3800640  PMID: 24187561
8.  Large Scale Analysis of Tumor Necrosis Factor Alpha Levels in Systemic Lupus Erythematosus 
Arthritis and rheumatism  2012;64(9):2947-2952.
Background
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.
Methods
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.
Results
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.
Conclusions
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.
doi:10.1002/art.34483
PMCID: PMC3396783  PMID: 22488302
systemic lupus erythematosus; tumor necrosis factor alpha; autoantibodies, ancestry
9.  Circulating cytokines in sarcoidosis: Phenotype-specific alterations for fibrotic and non-fibrotic pulmonary disease 
Cytokine  2013;61(3):906-911.
Aims
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.
Results
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.
Conclusions
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.
doi:10.1016/j.cyto.2012.12.016
PMCID: PMC3615886  PMID: 23384655
Sarcoidosis; Cytokines; Interleukin-5; Interleukin-7; Pulmonary fibrosis
10.  Inhibition of Interferon-beta Responses in Multiple Sclerosis Immune Cells Associated With High-Dose Statins 
Archives of neurology  2012;69(10):1303-1309.
Objective
To determine whether statins affect type 1 interferon responses in relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS).
Design
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.
Patients
The study examined clinically stable patients with RRMS: 21 therapy-naive patients and 14 patients receiving interferon-beta with a statin.
Interventions
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.
Results
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.
Conclusions
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.
doi:10.1001/archneurol.2012.465
PMCID: PMC3910505  PMID: 22801747
11.  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.
doi:10.1016/j.trsl.2012.03.005
PMCID: PMC3910531  PMID: 22683422
12.  IRF5 haplotypes demonstrate diverse serological associations which predict serum interferon alpha activity and explain the majority of the genetic association with systemic lupus erythematosus 
Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases  2011;71(3):463-468.
Objective
High serum interferon α (IFNα) activity is a heritable risk factor for systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). Auto-antibodies found in SLE form immune complexes which can stimulate IFNα production by activating endosomal Toll-like receptors and interferon regulatory factors (IRFs), including IRF5. Genetic variation in IRF5 is associated with SLE susceptibility; however, it is unclear how IRF5 functional genetic elements contribute to human disease.
Methods
1034 patients with SLE and 989 controls of European ancestry, 555 patients with SLE and 679 controls of African–American ancestry, and 73 patients with SLE of South African ancestry were genotyped at IRF5 polymorphisms, which define major haplotypes. Serum IFNα activity was measured using a functional assay.
Results
In European ancestry subjects, anti-double-stranded DNA (dsDNA) and anti-Ro antibodies were each associated with different haplotypes characterised by a different combination of functional genetic elements (OR > 2.56, p >003C; 1.9×10−14 for both). These IRF5 haplotype-auto-antibody associations strongly predicted higher serum IFNα in patients with SLE and explained > 70% of the genetic risk of SLE due to IRF5. In African–American patients with SLE a similar relationship between serology and IFNα was observed, although the previously described European ancestry-risk haplotype was present at admixture proportions in African–American subjects and absent in African patients with SLE.
Conclusions
The authors define a novel risk haplotype of IRF5 that is associated with anti-dsDNA antibodies and show that risk of SLE due to IRF5 genotype is largely dependent upon particular auto-antibodies. This suggests that auto-antibodies are directly pathogenic in human SLE, resulting in increased IFNα in cooperation with particular combinations of IRF5 functional genetic elements.
SLE is a systemic autoimmune disorder affecting multiple organ systems including the skin, musculoskeletal, renal and haematopoietic systems. Humoral autoimmunity is a hallmark of SLE, and patients frequently have circulating auto-antibodies directed against dsDNA, as well as RNA binding proteins (RBP). Anti-RBP autoantibodies include antibodies which recognize Ro, La, Smith (anti-Sm), and ribonucleoprotein (anti-nRNP), collectively referred to as anti-retinol-binding protein). Anti-retinol-binding protein and anti-dsDNA auto-antibodies are rare in the healthy population.1 These auto-antibodies can be present in sera for years preceding the onset of clinical SLE illness2 and are likely pathogenic in SLE.34
doi:10.1136/annrheumdis-2011-200463
PMCID: PMC3307526  PMID: 22088620
13.  Activation of the Interferon Pathway is Dependent Upon Autoantibodies in African-American SLE Patients, but Not in European-American SLE Patients 
Background: In systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), antibodies directed at RNA-binding proteins (anti-RBP) are associated with high serum type I interferon (IFN), which plays an important role in SLE pathogenesis. African-Americans (AA) are more likely to develop SLE, and SLE is also more severe in this population. We hypothesized that peripheral blood gene expression patterns would differ between AA and European-American (EA) SLE patients, and between those with anti-RBP antibodies and those who lack these antibodies.
Methods: Whole blood RNA from 33 female SLE patients and 16 matched female controls from AA and EA ancestral backgrounds was analyzed on Affymetrix Gene 1.0 ST gene expression arrays. Ingenuity Pathway Analysis was used to compare the top differentially expressed canonical pathways amongst the sample groups. An independent cohort of 116 SLE patients was used to replicate findings using quantitative real-time PCR (qPCR).
Results: Both AA and EA patients with positive anti-RBP antibodies showed over-expression of similar IFN-related canonical pathways, such as IFN Signaling (P = 1.3 × 10−7 and 6.3 × 10−11 in AA vs. EA respectively), Antigen Presenting Pathway (P = 1.8 × 10−5 and 2.5 × 10−6), and a number of pattern recognition receptor pathways. In anti-RBP negative (RBP−) patients, EA subjects demonstrated similar IFN-related pathway activation, whereas no IFN-related pathways were detected in RBP−AA patients. qPCR validation confirmed similar results.
Conclusion: Our data show that IFN-induced gene expression is completely dependent on the presence of autoantibodies in AA SLE patients but not in EA patients. This molecular heterogeneity suggests differences in IFN-pathway activation between ancestral backgrounds in SLE. This heterogeneity may be clinically important, as therapeutics targeting this pathway are being developed.
doi:10.3389/fimmu.2013.00309
PMCID: PMC3787392  PMID: 24101921
systemic lupus erythematosus; interferon alpha; autoantibodies; ancestral background; interferon gamma
14.  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.
doi:10.3389/fimmu.2013.00319
PMCID: PMC3791549  PMID: 24109483
systemic lupus erythematosus; nucleic acid sensor; type 1 interferon; TLR; DNA; RNA
15.  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.
doi:10.1089/jir.2011.0071
PMCID: PMC3234490  PMID: 21923413
16.  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.
doi:10.1155/2012/780436
PMCID: PMC3509422  PMID: 23251221
17.  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.
Objective
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).
Methods
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.
Results
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.
Conclusion
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.
doi:10.1002/art.23191
PMCID: PMC2755051  PMID: 18240214
18.  Two Independent Functional Risk Haplotypes in TNIP1 are Associated with Systemic Lupus Erythematosus 
Arthritis and rheumatism  2012;64(11):3695-3705.
Objective
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is an autoimmune disease characterized by autoantibody production and altered type I interferon expression. Genetic surveys and genome-wide association studies have identified more than 30 SLE susceptibility genes. One of these genes, TNIP1, encodes the ABIN1 protein. ABIN1 functions in the immune system by restricting the NF-κB signaling. In order to better understand the genetic factors that influence association with SLE in genes that regulate the NF-κB pathway, we analyzed a dense set of genetic markers spanning TNIP1 and TAX1BP1, as well as the TNIP1 homolog, TNIP2, in case-control sets of diverse ethnic origins.
Methods
We fine-mapped TNIP1, TNIP2, and TAX1BP1 in a total of 8372 SLE cases and 7492 healthy controls from European-ancestry, African-American, Hispanic, East Asian, and African-American Gullah populations. Levels of TNIP1 mRNA and ABIN1 protein were analyzed using quantitative RT-PCR and Western blotting, respectively, in EBV-transformed human B cell lines.
Results
We found significant associations between genetic variants within TNIP1 and SLE but not in TNIP2 or TAX1BP1. After resequencing and imputation, we identified two independent risk haplotypes within TNIP1 in individuals of European-ancestry that were also present in African-American and Hispanic populations. These risk haplotypes produced lower levels of TNIP1 mRNA and ABIN1 protein suggesting they harbor hypomorphic functional variants that influence susceptibility to SLE by restricting ABIN1 expression.
Conclusion
Our results confirmed the association signals between SLE and TNIP1 variants in multiple populations and provide new insight into the mechanism by which TNIP1 variants may contribute to SLE pathogenesis.
doi:10.1002/art.34642
PMCID: PMC3485412  PMID: 22833143
19.  Impact of Genetic Ancestry and Socio-Demographic Status on the Clinical Expression of Systemic Lupus Erythematosus in Amerindian-European Populations 
Arthritis and rheumatism  2012;64(11):3687-3694.
Objective
Amerindian-Europeans, Asians and African-Americans have an excess morbidity from SLE and higher prevalence of lupus nephritis than Caucasians. The aim of this study was to analyze the relationship between genetic ancestry and socio-demographic characteristics and clinical features in a large cohort of Amerindian-European SLE patients.
Methods
A total of 2116 SLE patients of Amerindian-European origin and 4001 SLE patients of European descent with clinical data were used in the study. Genotyping of 253 continental ancestry informative markers was performed on the Illumina platform. The STRUCTURE and ADMIXTURE software were used to determine genetic ancestry of each individual. Correlation between ancestry and socio-demographic and clinical data were analyzed using logistic regression.
Results
The average Amerindian genetic ancestry of 2116 SLE patients was 40.7%. There was an increased risk of having renal involvement (P<0.0001, OR= 3.50 95%CI 2.63-4.63) and an early age of onset with the presence of Amerindian genetic ancestry (P<0.0001). Amerindian ancestry protected against photosensitivity (P<0.0001, OR= 0.58 95%CI 0.44-0.76), oral ulcers (P<0.0001, OR= 0.55 95%CI 0.42-0.72), and serositis (P<0.0001, OR= 0.56 95%CI 0.41-0.75) after adjustment by age, gender and age of onset. However, gender and age of onset had stronger effects on malar rash, discoid rash, arthritis and neurological involvement than genetic ancestry.
Conclusion
In general, genetic Amerindian ancestry correlates with lower socio-demographic status and increases the risk for developing renal involvement and SLE at an earlier age of onset.
doi:10.1002/art.34650
PMCID: PMC3485439  PMID: 22886787
20.  Autoimmune Disease Risk Variant of IFIH1 Is Associated with Increased Sensitivity to IFN-α and Serologic Autoimmunity in Lupus Patients 
Increased IFN-α signaling is a heritable risk factor for systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). IFN induced with helicase C domain 1 (IFIH1) is a cytoplasmic dsRNA sensor that activates IFN-α pathway signaling. We studied the impact of the autoimmune-disease–associated IFIH1 rs1990760 (A946T) single nucleotide polymorphism upon IFN-α signaling in SLE patients in vivo. We studied 563 SLE patients (278 African-American, 179 European-American, and 106 Hispanic-American). Logistic regression models were used to detect genetic associations with autoantibody traits, and multiple linear regression was used to analyze IFN-α–induced gene expression in PBMCs in the context of serum IFN-α in the same blood sample. We found that the rs1990760 T allele was associated with anti-dsDNA Abs across all of the studied ancestral backgrounds (meta-analysis odds ratio = 1.34, p = 0.026). This allele also was associated with lower serum IFN-α levels in subjects who had anti-dsDNA Abs (p = 0.0026). When we studied simultaneous serum and PBMC samples from SLE patients, we found that the IFIH1 rs1990760 T allele was associated with increased IFN-induced gene expression in PBMCs in response to a given amount of serum IFN-α in anti-dsDNA–positive patients. This effect was independent of the STAT4 genotype, which modulates sensitivity to IFN-α in a similar way. Thus, the IFIH1 rs1990760 Tallele was associated with dsDNA Abs, and in patients with anti-dsDNA Abs this risk allele increased sensitivity to IFN-α signaling. These studies suggest a role for the IFIH1 risk allele in SLE in vivo.
doi:10.4049/jimmunol.1100857
PMCID: PMC3304466  PMID: 21705624
21.  Gene-Expression-Guided Selection of Candidate Loci and Molecular Phenotype Analyses Enhance Genetic Discovery in Systemic Lupus Erythematosus 
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a highly heterogeneous autoimmune disorder characterized by differences in autoantibody profiles, serum cytokines, and clinical manifestations. We have previously conducted a case-case genome-wide association study (GWAS) of SLE patients to detect associations with autoantibody profile and serum interferon alpha (IFN-α). In this study, we used public gene expression data sets to rationally select additional single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) for validation. The top 200 GWAS SNPs were searched in a database which compares genome-wide expression data to genome-wide SNP genotype data in HapMap cell lines. SNPs were chosen for validation if they were associated with differential expression of 15 or more genes at a significance of P < 9 × 10−5. This resulted in 11 SNPs which were genotyped in 453 SLE patients and 418 matched controls. Three SNPs were associated with SLE-associated autoantibodies, and one of these SNPs was also associated with serum IFN-α (P < 4.5 × 10−3 for all). One additional SNP was associated exclusively with serum IFN-α. Case-control analysis was insensitive to these molecular subphenotype associations. This study illustrates the use of gene expression data to rationally select candidate loci in autoimmune disease, and the utility of stratification by molecular phenotypes in the discovery of additional genetic associations in SLE.
doi:10.1155/2012/682018
PMCID: PMC3439981  PMID: 22988468
22.  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.
doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1003870
PMCID: PMC3794920  PMID: 24130510
23.  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.
doi:10.1016/j.trsl.2011.01.006
PMCID: PMC3096827  PMID: 21575916
Interferon Alpha; Genetics; Systemic Lupus Erythematosus; Interferon Regulatory Factor; Autoantibodies; Autoimmunity
24.  Familial Aggregation of Autoimmune Disease in Juvenile Dermatomyositis 
Pediatrics  2011;127(5):e1239-e1246.
OBJECTIVE:
Familial aggregation of autoimmune diseases likely reflects shared pathogenic factors between different diseases. Familial aggregation of autoimmunity has not been examined in juvenile dermatomyositis. Interferon-α is thought to be a pathogenic factor in both systemic lupus erythematosus and juvenile dermatomyositis, and we have previously demonstrated familial aggregation of serum interferon-α.
METHODS:
Family histories were obtained from 304 families of children with juvenile dermatomyositis via 3-generation structured interviews performed by the same person. Rates of autoimmune disease in families of children with juvenile dermatomyositis were compared with published population rates. Serum interferon-α, tumor necrosis factor-α, and neopterin were measured using standard techniques.
RESULTS:
A total of 51% of families of children with juvenile dermatomyositis reported at least 1 additional member affected by an autoimmune disease. In particular, both type 1 diabetes and systemic lupus erythematosus were significantly more common than would be expected (odds ratio >5, P ≤ 1 × 10−7 for both). Pedigree analysis showed particularly strong familial clustering of systemic lupus erythematosus with little decrease in incidence across generations, suggesting the possibility of rare causal genes with large effect. Untreated subjects with juvenile dermatomyositis with a family history of systemic lupus erythematosus had higher serum interferon-α than those who did not (P = .047).
CONCLUSIONS:
We find strong familial aggregation of specific autoimmune diseases in families of children with juvenile dermatomyositis, suggesting that these conditions share pathogenic factors. Higher serum interferon-α in juvenile dermatomyositis patients with a family history of systemic lupus erythematosus suggesting that interferon-α is one such shared factor.
doi:10.1542/peds.2010-3022
PMCID: PMC3081190  PMID: 21502224
juvenile dermatomyositis; systemic lupus erythematosus; diabetes mellitus type I; psoriasis; celiac disease; interferons
25.  Network Analysis of Associations between Serum Interferon Alpha Activity, Autoantibodies, and Clinical Features in Systemic Lupus Erythematosus 
Arthritis and rheumatism  2011;63(4):1044-1053.
Background
Interferon-alpha (IFN-α) is a primary pathogenic factor in systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), and high IFN-α levels may be associated with particular clinical manifestations. The prevalence of individual clinical and serologic features differs significantly by ancestry. We used multivariate and network analyses to detect associations between clinical and serologic disease manifestations and serum IFN-α activity in a large diverse SLE cohort.
Methods
1089 SLE patients were studied (387 African-American, 186 Hispanic-American, and 516 European-American). Presence or absence of ACR clinical criteria for SLE, autoantibodies, and serum IFN-α activity data were analyzed in univariate and multivariate models. Iterative multivariate logistic regression was performed in each background separately to establish the network of associations between variables that were independently significant following Bonferroni correction.
Results
In all ancestral backgrounds, high IFN-α activity was associated with anti-Ro and anti-dsDNA antibodies (p-values 4.6×10−18 and 2.9 × 10−16 respectively). Younger age, non-European ancestry, and anti-RNP were also independently associated with increased serum IFN-α activity (p≤6.7×10−4). We found 14 unique associations between variables in network analysis, and only 7 of these associations were shared by more than one ancestral background. Associations between clinical criteria were different in different ancestral backgrounds, while autoantibody-IFN-α relationships were similar across backgrounds. IFN-α activity and autoantibodies were not associated with ACR clinical features in multivariate models.
Conclusions
Serum IFN-α activity was strongly and consistently associated with autoantibodies, and not independently associated with clinical features in SLE. IFN-α may be more relevant to humoral tolerance and initial pathogenesis than later clinical disease manifestations.
doi:10.1002/art.30187
PMCID: PMC3068224  PMID: 21162028
systemic lupus erythematosus; interferon alpha; autoantibodies; ancestry

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