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1.  Genome-wide DNA methylation analysis in dermal fibroblasts from patients with diffuse and limited systemic sclerosis reveals common and subset-specific DNA methylation aberrancies 
Annals of the rheumatic diseases  2014;74(8):1612-1620.
The aetiology of systemic sclerosis (SSc) is not clear, but there is an emerging evidence of gene-specific epigenetic dysregulation in the pathogenesis of SSc.
We performed a genome-wide DNA methylation study in dermal fibroblasts in six diffuse cutaneous SSc (dSSc) patients, six limited cutaneous SSc (lSSc) patients compared with 12 age-matched, sex-matched and ethnicity-matched healthy controls. Cytosine methylation was quantified in more than 485 000 methylation sites across the genome. Differentially methylated CpG sites between patients and controls with a fold difference ≥1.2 were identified. Quantitative real-time RT-PCR was performed to assess correlation between DNA methylation changes and gene expression levels.
We identified 2710 and 1021 differentially methylated CpG sites in dSSc and lSSc, respectively. Of the differentially methylated sites, 61% in dSSc and 90% in lSSc were hypomethylated. There were only 203 CpG sites differentially methylated in both dSSc and lSSc, representing 118 hypomethylated and 6 hypermethylated genes. Common hypomethylated genes include ITGA9, encoding an α integrin. Other relevant genes such as ADAM12, COL23A1, COL4A2 and MYO1E, and transcription factors genes RUNX1, RUNX2 and RUNX3 were also hypomethylated in both dSSc and lSSc. Pathway analysis of differentially methylated genes in both dSSc and lSSc revealed enrichment of genes involved in extracellular matrix–receptor interaction and focal adhesion. We demonstrate significant correlation between DNA methylation status and gene expression in the majority of genes evaluated.
Our data highlight common and subset-specific aberrancies in dSSc and lSSc fibroblasts at the epigenomic levels and identify novel candidate genes in SSc.
PMCID: PMC4224992  PMID: 24812288
2.  Genome-wide association study identifies susceptibility loci in IL6, RPS9/LILRB3, and an intergenic locus on chromosome 21q22 in Takayasu’s arteritis 
Takayasu’s arteritis is a rare large vessel vasculitis with incompletely understood etiology. We performed the first unbiased genome-wide association study (GWAS) in Takayasu’s arteritis.
Two independent Takayasu’s arteritis cohorts from Turkey and North America were included in our study. The Turkish cohort consisted of 559 patients and 489 controls, and the North American cohort consisted of 134 European-derived patients and 1,047 controls. Genotyping was performed using the Omni1-Quad and Omni2.5 genotyping arrays. Genotyping data were subjected to rigorous quality control measures and subsequently analyzed to discover genetic susceptibility loci for Takayasu’s arteritis.
We identified genetic susceptibility loci for Takayasu’s arteritis with a genome-wide level of significance in IL6 (rs2069837, OR= 2.07, P= 6.70×10−9), RPS9/LILRB3 (rs11666543, OR= 1.65, P= 2.34×10−8), and an intergenic locus on chromosome 21q22 (rs2836878, OR= 1.79, P= 3.62×10−10). The genetic susceptibility locus in RPS9/LILRB3 is located within the leukocyte receptor complex (LRC) gene cluster on chromosome 19q13.4, and the disease risk variant in this locus correlates with reduced expression of multiple genes including the inhibitory leukocyte immunoglobulin-like receptor gene LILRB3 (P= 2.29×10−8). In addition, we identified candidate susceptibility genes with suggestive levels of association (P <1×10−5) including PCSK5, LILRA3, PPM1G/NRBP1, and PTK2B in Takayasu’s arteritis.
This study identified novel genetic susceptibility loci for Takayasu’s arteritis and uncovered potentially important aspects in the pathophysiology of this form of vasculitis.
PMCID: PMC4414813  PMID: 25604533
3.  Genome-wide profiling identifies associations between lupus nephritis and differential methylation of genes regulating tissue hypoxia and type 1 interferon responses 
Lupus Science & Medicine  2016;3(1):e000183.
Previous studies have shown that differential DNA methylation is associated with SLE susceptibility. How DNA methylation affects the clinical heterogeneity of SLE has not been fully defined. We conducted this study to identify differentially methylated CpG sites associated with nephritis among women with SLE.
The methylation status of 428 229 CpG sites across the genome was characterised for peripheral blood cells from 322 women of European descent with SLE, 80 of whom had lupus nephritis, using the Illumina HumanMethylation450 BeadChip. Multivariable linear regression adjusting for population substructure and leucocyte cell proportions was used to identify differentially methylated sites associated with lupus nephritis. The influence of genetic variation on methylation status was investigated using data from a genome-wide association study of SLE. Pathway analyses were used to identify biological processes associated with lupus nephritis.
We identified differential methylation of 19 sites in 18 genomic regions that was associated with nephritis among patients with SLE (false discovery rate q<0.05). Associations for four sites in HIF3A, IFI44 and PRR4 were replicated when examining methylation data derived from CD4+ T cells collected from an independent set of patients with SLE. These associations were not driven by genetic variation within or around the genomic regions. In addition, genes associated with lupus nephritis in a prior genome-wide association study were not differentially methylated in this epigenome-wide study. Pathway analysis indicated that biological processes involving type 1 interferon responses and the development of the immune system were associated with nephritis in patients with SLE.
Differential methylation of genes regulating the response to tissue hypoxia and interferon-mediated signalling is associated with lupus nephritis among women with SLE. These findings have not been identified in genetic studies of lupus nephritis, suggesting that epigenome-wide association studies can help identify the genomic differences that underlie the clinical heterogeneity of SLE.
PMCID: PMC5174796  PMID: 28074145
Systemic Lupus Erythematosus; Lupus Nephritis; DNA methylation; Epigenetics
4.  Histone H2AX phosphorylation as a measure of DNA double-strand breaks and a marker of environmental stress and disease activity in lupus 
Lupus Science & Medicine  2016;3(1):e000148.
Defective or inefficient DNA double-strand break (DSB) repair results in failure to preserve genomic integrity leading to apoptotic cell death, a hallmark of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). Compelling evidence linked environmental factors that increase oxidative stress with SLE risk and the formation of DSBs. In this study, we sought to further explore genotoxic stress sensitivity in SLE by investigating DSB accumulation as a marker linking the effect of environmental stressors and the chromatin microenvironment.
DSBs were quantified in peripheral blood mononuclear cell subsets from patients with SLE, healthy controls, and patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) by measuring phosphorylated H2AX (phospho-H2AX) levels with flow cytometry. Phospho-H2AX levels were assessed in G0/G1, S and G2 cell-cycle phases using propidium iodide staining, and after oxidative stress using 0.5 µM hydrogen peroxide exposure for 0, 2, 5, 10, 30 and 60 min.
DSB levels were significantly increased in CD4+ T cells, CD8+ T cells and monocytes in SLE compared with healthy controls (p=2.16×10−4, 1.68×10−3 and 4.74×10−3, respectively) and RA (p=1.05×10−3, 1.78×10−3 and 2.43×10−2, respectively). This increase in DSBs in SLE was independent of the cell-cycle phase, and correlated with disease activity. In CD4+ T cells, CD8+ T cells and monocytes, oxidative stress exposure induced significantly higher DSB accumulation in SLE compared with healthy controls (60 min; p=1.64×10−6, 8.11×10−7 and 2.04×10−3, respectively).
Our data indicate that SLE T cells and monocytes have increased baseline DSB levels and an increased sensitivity to acquiring DSBs in response to oxidative stress. Although the mechanism underlying DSB sensitivity in SLE requires further investigation, accumulation of DSB may serve a biomarker for disease activity in SLE and help explain increased apoptotic cell accumulation in this disease.
PMCID: PMC4854117  PMID: 27158526
Double strand breaks; Oxidative stress; H2AX phosphorylation
5.  Autoimmune disease in the epigenetic era: how has epigenetics changed our understanding of disease and how can we expect the field to evolve? 
Autoimmune diseases are complex and enigmatic, and have presented particular challenges to researchers seeking to define their etiology and explain progression. Previous studies have implicated epigenetic influences in the development of autoimmunity. Epigenetics describes changes in gene expression related to environmental influences without alterations in the underlying genomic sequence, generally classified into three main groups: cytosine genomic DNA methylation, modification of various sidechain positions of histone proteins, and noncoding RNAs. The purpose of this article is to review the most relevant literature describing alterations of epigenetic marks in the development and progression of four common autoimmune diseases: systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), rheumatoid arthritis (RA), systemic sclerosis (SSc), and Sjogren’s syndrome (SS). The contribution of DNA methylation, histone modification, and noncoding RNA for each of these disorders is discussed, including examples both of candidate studies and larger epigenomics surveys, and in various tissue types important for the pathogenesis of each. The future of the field is speculated briefly, as is the possibility of therapeutic interventions targeting the epigenome.
PMCID: PMC4636192  PMID: 25534978
epigenetics; methylation; histone modification; microRNA; autoimmune disease; systemic lupus erythematosus; rheumatoid arthritis; systemic sclerosis; Sjögren’s syndrome
6.  DNA methylation patterns in naïve CD4+ T cells identify epigenetic susceptibility loci for malar rash and discoid rash in systemic lupus erythematosus 
Lupus Science & Medicine  2015;2(1):e000101.
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a complex autoimmune disease characterised by heterogeneous clinical manifestations, autoantibody production and epigenetic dysregulation in T cells. We sought to investigate the epigenetic contribution to the development of cutaneous manifestations in SLE.
We performed genome-wide DNA methylation analyses in patients with SLE stratified by a history of malar rash, discoid rash or neither cutaneous manifestation, and age, sex and ethnicity matched healthy controls. We characterised differentially methylated regions (DMRs) in naïve CD4+ T cells unique to each disease subset, and assessed functional relationships between DMRs using bioinformatic approaches.
We identified 36 and 37 unique DMRs that contribute to the epigenetic susceptibility to malar rash and discoid rash, respectively. These DMRs were primarily localised to genes mediating cell proliferation and apoptosis. Hypomethylation of MIR886 and TRIM69, and hypermethylation of RNF39 were specific to patients with SLE with a history of malar rash. Hypomethylation of the cytoskeleton-related gene RHOJ was specific to patients with SLE with a history of discoid rash. In addition, discoid rash-specific hypomethylated DMRs were found in genes involved in antigen-processing and presentation such as TAP1 and PSMB8. Network analyses showed that DMRs in patients with SLE with but not without a history of cutaneous manifestations are associated with TAP-dependent processing and major histocompatibility-class I antigen cross-presentation (p=3.66×10−18 in malar rash, and 3.67×10−13 in discoid rash).
We characterised DNA methylation changes in naïve CD4+ T cells specific to malar rash and discoid rash in patients with SLE. These data suggest unique epigenetic susceptibility loci that predispose to or are associated with the development of cutaneous manifestations in SLE.
PMCID: PMC4577980  PMID: 26405558
Systemic Lupus Erythematosus; Gene Polymorphism; Autoimmune Diseases
7.  Epigenome-wide scan identifies a treatment-responsive pattern of altered DNA methylation among cytoskeletal remodeling genes in monocytes and CD4+ T cells in Behçet’s disease 
Behçet’s disease (BD) is an inflammatory disease characterized by multi-system involvement including recurrent oral and genital ulcers, cutaneous lesions, and uveitis. The pathogenesis of BD remains poorly understood. We performed a genome-wide DNA methylation study in BD before and after disease remission, and in healthy matched controls.
We examined genome-wide DNA methylation in monocytes and CD4+ T cells from a set of 16 untreated male BD patients and age, sex, and ethnicity-matched controls. Additional samples were collected from 12 of the same BD patients after treatment and disease remission. Genome-wide DNA methylation patterns were assessed using the HumanMethylation450 DNA Analysis BeadChip array which includes over 485,000 individual methylation sites across the genome.
We identified 383 differentially methylated CpG sites between BD patients and controls in monocytes and 125 differentially methylated CpG sites in CD4+ T cells. Bioinformatic analysis revealed a pattern of aberrant DNA methylation among genes that regulate cytoskeletal dynamics suggesting that aberrant DNA methylation of multiple classes of structural and regulatory proteins of the cytoskeleton might contribute to the pathogenesis of BD. Further, DNA methylation changes associated with treatment act to restore methylation differences observed between patients and controls. Indeed, among CpG sites differentially methylated before and after disease remission, there was almost exclusive reversal of the direction of aberrant DNA methylation observed between patients and healthy controls.
We performed the first epigenome-wide study in BD and provide strong evidence that epigenetic modification of cytoskeletal dynamics underlies the pathogenesis and therapeutic response in BD.
PMCID: PMC4096298  PMID: 24574333
Behçet’s Disease; Cytoskeleton; Epigenetics; DNA Methylation
8.  Genome-wide DNA methylation patterns in naïve CD4+ T cells from patients with primary Sjögren’s syndrome 
Primary Sjögren’s syndrome (pSS) is a systemic autoimmune disease with incompletely understood etiology. Very little is known about the role of epigenetic dysregulation in the pathogenesis of pSS.
We performed a genome-wide DNA methylation study in naïve CD4+ T cells in eleven pSS patients compared to age-, sex-, and ethnicity-matched healthy controls. Cytosine methylation was quantified using the Illumina Infinium HumanMethylation450 BeadChip array and validated using bisulfite sequencing.
We identified 553 hypomethylated and 200 hypermethylated CpG sites in naïve CD4+ T cells from pSS patients compared to healthy matched controls, representing 311 hypomethylated and 115 hypermethylated gene regions. Hypomethylated genes in pSS include LTA, coding for Lymphotoxin α. Other relevant genes such as CD247, TNFRSF25, PTPRC, GSTM1 and PDCD1 were also hypomethylated. The interferon signature pathway was represented by hypomethylation of STAT1, IFI44L, USP18 and IFITM1. A group of genes encoding for members of the solute carrier proteins were differentially methylated. In addition, the transcription factor RUNX1 was hypermethylated in patients, suggesting a possible connection to lymphoma predisposition. Gene ontology (GO) analysis of hypomethylated genes demonstrated enrichment of genes involved in lymphocyte activation and immune response. GO terms for hypermethylated genes included antigen processing and presentation.
This is the first epigenome-wide DNA methylation study in pSS. Our data highlight a role for DNA methylation in pSS and identify disease-associated DNA methylation changes in several genes and pathways in naïve CD4+ T cells in pSS that may be involved in the pathogenesis of this disease.
PMCID: PMC4009982  PMID: 24574234
9.  Renal involvement in lupus is characterized by unique DNA methylation changes in naïve CD4+ T cells 
Journal of autoimmunity  2015;61:29-35.
Systemic lupus erythematosus is a multi-system disease characterized by wide-spread DNA methylation changes. To identify epigenetic susceptibility loci for lupus nephritis, genome-wide DNA methylation changes in naïve CD4+ T cells were compared between two sets of lupus patients with and without a history of renal involvement. A total of 56 lupus patients (28 with renal involvement and 28 without renal involvement), and 56 age-, sex-, and ethnicity-matched healthy controls were included in our study. We identified 191 CG sites and 121 genes that were only differentially methylated in lupus patients with but not without a history of renal involvement. The tyrosine kinase gene TNK2 involved in cell trafficking and tissue invasion, and the phosphatase gene DUSP5 which dephosphorylates and inhibits the ERK signaling pathway, were among the most hypomethylated. Independent of disease activity, renal involvement is characterized by more robust demethylation in interferon regulated genes differentially methylated in both sets of lupus patients with and without renal involvement (fold change 1.4, P = 0.0014). The type-I interferon master regulator gene IRF7 is only hypomethylated in lupus patients with renal involvement. IRF-7 is an upstream transcription factor that regulates several loci demethylated only with renal involvement such as CD80, HERC5, IFI44, IRF7, ISG15, ISG20, ITGAX, and PARP12 (P = 1.78 × 10−6). Among the CG sites only hypomethylated with renal involvement, CG10152449 in CHST12 has a sensitivity of 85.7% and a specificity of 64.3% for stratifying lupus patients for a history of renal involvement (P = 0.0029). Our data identified novel epigenetic susceptibility loci that are differentially methylated with renal involvement in lupus. These loci will help better understand lupus nephritis, and provide a proof of principle for the potential applicability of specific methylation changes as predictors for specific organ involvement in lupus.
PMCID: PMC4497927  PMID: 26005050
Lupus; Nephritis; Epigenetics; Methylation; Biomarker; EWAS
Clinical immunology (Orlando, Fla.)  2015;158(2):193-203.
Genetic and environmental factors contribute to the onset and progression of lupus. CD4+ T cells from patients with active lupus show a decreased ERK signaling pathway, which causes changes in gene expression. The defect points to its upstream regulator, PKCδ, which exhibits a deficient activity due to oxidative stress. Our aim was to investigate the effect of a defective PKCδ in the development of lupus.
We generated a double transgenic C57BL6 × SJL mouse that expresses a doxycycline-induced dominant negative PKCδ (dnPKCδ) in T cells. The transgenic mice displayed decreased T cell ERK signaling, decreased DNMT1 expression and overexpression of methylation sensitive genes involved in the exaggerated immune response in the pathogenesis of lupus. The mice developed anti-dsDNA autoantibodies and glomerulonephritis with IgG deposition.
The study indicates common pathogenic mechanisms with human lupus, suggesting that environmentally-mediated T cell PKCδ inactivation plays a causative role in lupus.
PMCID: PMC4464903  PMID: 25829232
Lupus; T cells; PKCδ; transgenic mouse model; extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK); autoimmunity
11.  Overexpression of methyl-CpG-binding protein 2 and autoimmunity: Evidence from MECP2 duplication syndrome, lupus, MECP2 transgenic and Mecp2 deficient mice 
Lupus  2013;22(9):870-872.
Methyl-CpG-binding protein 2 (MeCP2) is a key transcriptional regulator that can induce either silencing or activation of target genes. Genetic polymorphisms in the MECP2/IRAK1 locus have been associated with increased susceptibility to multiple autoimmune diseases such as lupus, primary Sjogren's syndrome, and more recently rheumatoid arthritis. Data from our group suggest that the disease risk variant in this locus is associated with gain of MeCP2 function. Recent findings indicate that MECP2 duplication in human results in defective T helper cell type 1 (TH1) response and IFN-γ production. Herein, we discuss the data from children with MECP2 duplication, human lupus, and from the human MECP2 transgenic and Mecp2 deficient mice to support a link between MECP2 overexpression and autoimmunity. We also provide findings from an Mecp2 deficient mouse that independently support a role for MeCP2 in the immune response and specifically in IFN-γ expression.
PMCID: PMC3790641  PMID: 23861028
MeCP2; MECP2 duplication; lupus; autoimmunity; TH1 response
12.  Genome-wide DNA methylation study suggests epigenetic accessibility and transcriptional poising of interferon-regulated genes in naïve CD4+ T cells from lupus patients 
Journal of autoimmunity  2013;43:78-84.
Systemic lupus erythematosus is an autoimmune disease characterized by multi-system involvement and autoantibody production. Abnormal T cell DNA methylation and type-I interferon play an important role in the pathogenesis of lupus. We performed a genome-wide DNA methylation study in two independent sets of lupus patients and matched healthy controls to characterize the DNA methylome in naïve CD4+ T cells in lupus. DNA methylation was quantified for over 485,000 methylation sites across the genome, and differentially methylated sites between lupus patients and controls were identified and then independently replicated. Gene expression analysis was also performed from the same cells to investigate the relationship between the DNA methylation changes observed and mRNA expression levels. We identified and replicated 86 differentially methylated CG sites between patients and controls in 47 genes, with the majority being hypomethylated. We observed significant hypomethylation in interferon-regulated genes in naïve T cells from lupus patients, including IFIT1, IFIT3, MX1, STAT1, IFI44L, USP18, TRIM22 and BST2, suggesting epigenetic transcriptional accessibility in these genetic loci. Indeed, the majority of the hypomethylated genes (21 out of 35 hypomethylated genes) are regulated by type I interferon. The hypomethylation in interferon-regulated genes was not related to lupus disease activity. Gene expression analysis showed overexpression of these genes in total but not naïve CD4+ T cells from lupus patients. Our data suggest epigenetic “poising” of interferon-regulated genes in lupus naïve CD4+ T cells, argue for a novel pathogenic implication for abnormal T cell DNA methylation in lupus, and suggest a mechanism for type-I interferon hyper-responsiveness in lupus T cells.
PMCID: PMC3790645  PMID: 23623029
Lupus; naïve CD4+ T cells; methylome; DNA methylation
13.  Functional characterization of the MECP2/IRAK1 lupus risk haplotype in human T cells and a human MECP2 transgenic mouse 
Journal of autoimmunity  2013;41:168-174.
Genetic polymorphism in MECP2/IRAK1 on chromosome Xq28 is a confirmed and replicated susceptibility locus for lupus. High linkage disequilibrium in this locus suggests that both MECP2 and IRAK1 are candidate genes for the disease. DNA methylation changes in lupus T cells play a central role in the pathogenesis of lupus, and MeCp-2 (encoded by MECP2) is a master regulator of gene expression and is also known to recruit DNA methyltransferase 1 (DNMT1) during DNA synthesis. Using human T cells from normal individuals with either the lupus risk or the lupus protective haplotype in MECP2/IRAK1, we demonstrate that polymorphism in this locus increases MECP2 isoform 2 mRNA expression in stimulated but not unstimulated T cells. By assessing DNA methylation levels across over 485,000 methylation sites across the entire genome, we further demonstrate that the lupus risk variant in this locus is associated with significant DNA methylation changes, including in the HLA-DR and HLA-DQ loci, as well as interferon-related genes such as IFI6, IRF6, and BST2. Further, using a human MECP2 transgenic mouse, we show that overexpression of MECP2 alters gene expression in stimulated T cells. This includes overexpression of Eif2c2 that regulates the expression of multiple microRNAs (such as miR-21), and the histone demethylase Jhdm1d. In addition, we show that MECP2 transgenic mice develop antinuclear antibodies. Our data suggest that the lupus associated variant in the MECP2/IRAK1 locus has the potential to affect all 3 epigenetic mechanisms: DNA methylation, microRNA expression, and histone modification. Importantly, these data support the notion that variants within the MECP2 gene can alter DNA methylation in other genetic loci including the HLA and interferon-regulated genes, thereby providing evidence for genetic-epigenetic interaction in lupus.
PMCID: PMC3622940  PMID: 23428850
MECP2; IRAK1; lupus; epigenetics; polymorphism; DNA methylation; T cells; transgenic mouse
14.  Epigenome profiling reveals significant DNA demethylation of interferon signature genes in lupus neutrophils 
Journal of autoimmunity  2015;58:59-66.
Recent evidence suggests that neutrophils play an important role in the pathogenesis of lupus. The goal of this study was to characterize the epigenetic architecture, by studying the DNA methylome, of neutrophils and low density granulocytes (LDGs) in lupus patients. We studied 15 lupus patients and 15 healthy age, sex, and ethnicity matched controls. Genome-wide DNA methylation was assessed using the Illumina HumanMethylation 450 BeadChip array, which includes over 485,000 methylation sites across the entire genome. Bisulfite DNA sequencing was used to validate the array results. Statistical and bioinformatic analysis was performed to identify and characterize differentially methylated loci and genes. We identified 293 differentially methylated CG sites in neutrophils between lupus patients and controls. The majority (68%) of differentially methylated CG sites were hypomethylated in lupus neutrophils compared to controls, suggesting overall hypomethylation. We found a robust and consistent demethylation of interferon signature genes in lupus neutrophils, and similar demethylation in the same genes in autologous LDGs. Indeed, the DNA methylome in lupus neutrophils and LDGs was almost identical, suggesting similar chromatin architecture in the two granulocyte subsets. A notable exception was the hypomethylation of a CG site in the promoter region of the cytoskeleton-regulating gene RAC1 in LDGs. Our findings demonstrate a pattern of robust demethylation of interferon signature genes in lupus patients supporting a pathogenic role for neutrophils in lupus. We suggest a model whereby DNA from lupus neutrophils and LDGs externalized by NETosis enhance type-I IFN production via TLR-9 stimulation by hypomethylated DNA.
PMCID: PMC4363276  PMID: 25638528
Lupus; Neutrophils; Methylome; LDG; Epigenetics
15.  Sex-specific differences in the relationship between genetic susceptibility, T cell DNA demethylation and lupus flare severity 
Journal of Autoimmunity  2012;38(2-3):J216-J222.
Lupus is less common in men than women, and the reason is incompletely understood. Current evidence indicates that lupus flares when genetically predisposed individuals encounter environmental agents that trigger the disease, and that the environmental contribution is mediated at least in part by T cell DNA demethylation. We hypothesized that lupus disease activity is directly related to total genetic risk and inversely related to T cell DNA methylation levels in each patient. Since women are predisposed to lupus in part because of their second X chromosome, we also hypothesized that men would require a greater genetic risk, a greater degree of autosomal T cell DNA demethylation, or both, to achieve a lupus flare equal in severity to women. Genetic risk was determined by genotyping men and women with lupus across 32 confirmed lupus susceptibility loci. The methylation status of two T cell autosomal genes known to demethylate in proportion to disease activity, KIR2DL4 (KIR) and PRF1, was measured by bisulfite sequencing. Lupus disease activity was determined by the SLEDAI. Interactions between genetic score, T cell DNA demethylation, and the SLEDAI score were compared between the men and women by regression analysis. Combining the degree of DNA demethylation with the genetic risk score for each patient demonstrated that the (genetic risk)/(DNA methylation) ratio increased directly with disease activity in both men and women with lupus. Importantly, men required a greater (genetic risk)/(DNA methylation) ratio to achieve a SLEDAI score equivalent to women (p=0.010 for KIR and p=0.0054 for PRF1). This difference was not explained by a difference in the genetic risk or T cell DNA demethylation alone, suggesting a genetic-epigenetic interaction. These results suggest that genetic risk and T cell DNA demethylation interact in lupus patients to influence the severity of lupus flares, and that men require a higher genetic risk and/or greater degree of T cell DNA demethylation to achieve a lupus flare equal in severity to women.
PMCID: PMC3313010  PMID: 22305513
Genetic risk; epigenetics; DNA methylation; lupus; genetic-epigenetic interaction; sex-disparity
16.  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
17.  Evidence for gene-gene epistatic interactions among susceptibility loci for systemic lupus erythematosus 
Arthritis and Rheumatism  2012;64(2):485-492.
Several confirmed genetic susceptibility loci for lupus have been described. To date, no clear evidence for genetic epistasis is established in lupus. We test for gene-gene interactions in a number of known lupus susceptibility loci.
Eighteen SNPs tagging independent and confirmed lupus susceptibility loci were genotyped in a set of 4,248 lupus patients and 3,818 normal healthy controls of European descent. Epistasis was tested using a 2-step approach utilizing both parametric and non-parametric methods. The false discovery rate (FDR) method was used to correct for multiple testing.
We detected and confirmed gene-gene interactions between the HLA region and CTLA4, IRF5, and ITGAM, and between PDCD1 and IL21 in lupus patients. The most significant interaction detected by parametric analysis was between rs3131379 in the HLA region and rs231775 in CTLA4 (Interaction odds ratio=1.19, z-score= 3.95, P= 7.8×10−5 (FDR≤0.05), PMDR= 5.9×10−45). Importantly, our data suggest that in lupus patients the presence of the HLA lupus-risk alleles in rs1270942 and rs3131379 increases the odds of also carrying the lupus-risk allele in IRF5 (rs2070197) by 17% and 16%, respectively (P= 0.0028 and 0.0047).
We provide evidence for gene-gene epistasis in systemic lupus erythematosus. These findings support a role for genetic interaction contributing to the complexity of lupus heritability.
PMCID: PMC3268866  PMID: 21952918
18.  Identification of novel genetic susceptibility loci in African-American lupus patients using a candidate gene association study 
Arthritis and rheumatism  2011;63(11):3493-3501.
Candidate gene and genome-wide association studies have identified several disease susceptibility loci in lupus patients. These studies have been largely performed in European-derived and Asian lupus patients. In this study, we examine if some of these same susceptibility loci increase lupus risk in African-American individuals.
Single nucleotide polymorphisms tagging 15 independent lupus susceptibility loci were genotyped in a set of 1,724 lupus patients and 2,024 normal healthy controls of African-American descent. The loci examined included: PTPN22, FCGR2A, TNFSF4, STAT4, CTLA4, PDCD1, PXK, BANK1, MSH5 (HLA region), CFB (HLA region), C8orf13-BLK region, MBL2, KIAA1542, ITGAM, and MECP2/IRAK1.
We provide the first evidence for genetic association between lupus and five susceptibility loci in African-American patients (C8orf13-BLK, BANK1, TNFSF4, KIAA1542 andCTLA4; P values= 8.0 × 10−6, 1.9 × 10−5, 5.7 × 10−5, 0.00099, 0.0045, respectively). Further, we confirm the genetic association between lupus and five additional lupus susceptibility loci (ITGAM, MSH5, CFB, STAT4, and FCGR2A; P values= 7.5 × 10−11, 5.2 × 10−8, 8.7 × 10−7, 0.0058, and 0.0070, respectively), and provide evidence for a genome-wide significance for the association between ITGAM and MSH5 (HLA region) for the first time in African-American lupus patients.
These findings provide evidence for novel genetic susceptibility loci for lupus in African-Americans and demonstrate that the majority of lupus susceptibility loci examined confer lupus risk across multiple ethnicities.
PMCID: PMC3205224  PMID: 21792837
19.  A putative functional variant within the ubiquitin-associated domain-containing protein 2 gene (UBAC2) is associated with increased risk of Behçet’s disease 
Arthritis and rheumatism  2011;63(11):3607-3612.
Using a genome-wide association scan and DNA pooling, we previously identified 5 novel genetic susceptibility loci for Behçet’s disease. Herein, we establish the genetic effect within the UBAC2 gene, replicate this genetic association, and identify a functional variant within this locus.
A total of 676 Behçet’s disease patients and 1,096 controls were studied. The discovery set included 156 patients and 167 controls from Turkey, and the replication sets included 376 patients and 369 controls, and 144 patients and 560 controls, from Turkey and Italy, respectively. Genotyping of 14 SNPs within and around UBAC2 was performed using TaqMan SNP genotyping assays.
The genetic association between Behçet’s disease and UBAC2 was established, replicated and confirmed (Meta-analysis OR= 1.84, meta-analysis P= 1.69X10−7). Haplotype analysis identified both a disease risk and a protective haplotype (P= 0.00014 and 0.0075, respectively). Using conditional haplotype analysis we identified the SNP rs7999348 (A/G) within UBAC2 as the most likely SNP with a genetic effect independent of the haplotypic effect formed by the remaining associated SNPs in this locus. Indeed, we demonstrate that rs7999348 tags a functional variant associated with increased mRNA expression of a UBAC2 transcript variant in PBMCs of individuals homozygous for the Behçet’s disease-associated “G” allele. Further, our data suggest the possibility of multiple genetic effects that increase susceptibility to Behçet’s disease in the UBAC2 locus.
We established and confirmed the genetic association between UBAC2 and Behçet’s disease in three independent sets of patients and controls. We identified the minor allele in rs7999348 as a disease-risk allele that tags altered UBAC2 expression.
PMCID: PMC3205238  PMID: 21918955
20.  Phenotypic associations of genetic susceptibility loci in systemic lupus erythematosus 
Annals of the rheumatic diseases  2011;70(10):1752-1757.
Systemic lupus erythematosus is a clinically heterogeneous autoimmune disease. A number of genetic loci that increase lupus susceptibility have been established. This study examines if these genetic loci also contribute to the clinical heterogeneity in lupus.
Materials and methods
4001 European-derived, 1547 Hispanic, 1590 African-American and 1191 Asian lupus patients were genotyped for 16 confirmed lupus susceptibility loci. Ancestry informative markers were genotyped to calculate and adjust for admixture. The association between the risk allele in each locus was determined and compared in patients with and without the various clinical manifestations included in the ACR criteria.
Renal disorder was significantly correlated with the lupus risk allele in ITGAM (p=5.0×10−6, OR 1.25, 95% CI 1.12 to 1.35) and in TNFSF4 (p=0.0013, OR 1.14, 95% CI 1.07 to 1.25). Other significant findings include the association between risk alleles in FCGR2A and malar rash (p=0.0031, OR 1.11, 95% CI 1.17 to 1.33), ITGAM and discoid rash (p=0.0020, OR 1.20, 95% CI 1.06 to 1.33), STAT4 and protection from oral ulcers (p=0.0027, OR 0.89, 95% CI 0.83 to 0.96) and IL21 and haematological disorder (p=0.0027, OR 1.13, 95% CI 1.04 to 1.22). All these associations are significant with a false discovery rate of <0.05 and pass the significance threshold using Bonferroni correction for multiple testing.
Significant associations were found between lupus clinical manifestations and the FCGR2A, ITGAM, STAT4, TNSF4 and IL21 genes. The findings suggest that genetic profiling might be a useful tool to predict disease manifestations in lupus patients in the future.
PMCID: PMC3232181  PMID: 21719445
21.  Fine mapping and trans-ethnic genotyping establish IL2/IL21 genetic association with lupus and localize this genetic effect to IL21 
Arthritis and rheumatism  2011;63(6):1689-1697.
Genetic association of the IL2/IL21 region at 4q27 has been previously reported in lupus and a number of autoimmune and inflammatory diseases. Herein, using a very large cohort of lupus patients and controls, we localize this genetic effect to the IL21 gene.
We genotyped 45 tag SNPs across the IL2/IL21 locus in two large independent lupus sample sets. We studied a European-derived set consisting of 4,248 lupus patients and 3,818 healthy controls, and an African-American set of 1,569 patients and 1,893 healthy controls. Imputation in 3,004 WTCCC additional control individuals was also performed. Genetic association between the genotyped markers was determined, and pair-wise conditional analysis was performed to localize the independent genetic effect in the IL2/IL21 locus in lupus.
We established and confirmed the genetic association between IL2/IL21 and lupus. Using conditional analysis and trans-ethnic mapping, we localized the genetic effect in this locus to two SNPs in high linkage disequilibrium; rs907715 located within IL21 (OR=1.16 (1.10–1.22), P= 2.17 ×10−8), and rs6835457 located in the 3’-UTR flanking region of IL21 (OR= 1.11 (1.05–1.17), P= 9.35×10−5).
We have established the genetic association between lupus and IL2/IL21 with a genome-wide level of significance. Further, we localized this genetic association within the IL2/IL21 linkage disequilibrium block to IL21. If other autoimmune IL2/IL21 genetic associations are similarly localized, then the IL21 risk alleles would be predicted to operate in a fundamental mechanism that influences the course of a number of autoimmune disease processes.
PMCID: PMC3106139  PMID: 21425124
22.  Genome-wide DNA methylation patterns in CD4+ T cells from patients with systemic lupus erythematosus 
Epigenetics  2011;6(5):593-601.
Systemic lupus erythematosus is a chronic-relapsing autoimmune disease of incompletely understood etiology. Recent evidence strongly supports an epigenetic contribution to the pathogenesis of lupus. To understand the extent and nature of dysregulated DNA methylation in lupus T cells, we performed a genome-wide DNA methylation study in CD4+ T cells in lupus patients compared to normal healthy controls. Cytosine methylation was quantified in 27,578 CG sites located within the promoter regions of 14,495 genes. We identified 236 hypomethylated and 105 hypermethylated CG sites in lupus CD4+ T cells compared to normal controls, consistent with widespread DNA methylation changes in lupus T cells. Of interest, hypomethylated genes in lupus T cells include CD9, which is known to provide potent T-cell co-stimulation signals. Other genes with known involvement in autoimmunity such as MMP9 and PDGFRA were also hypomethylated. The BST2 gene, an interferon-inducible membrane-bound protein that helps restrict the release of retroviral particles was also hypomethylated in lupus patients. Genes involved in folate biosynthesis, which plays a role in DNA methylation, were overrepresented among hypermethylated genes. In addition, the transcription factor RUNX3 was hypermethylated in patients, suggesting an impact on T-cell maturation. Protein-protein interaction maps identified a transcription factor, HNF4a, as a regulatory hub affecting a number of differentially methylated genes. Apoptosis was also an overrepresented ontology in these interaction maps. Further, our data suggest that the methylation status of RAB22A, STX1B2, LGALS3BP, DNASE1L1 and PREX1 correlates with disease activity in lupus patients.
PMCID: PMC3121972  PMID: 21436623
lupus; T cells; CD4+ T cells; methylation; methylome
23.  The DNA methylation signature of human TCRαβ+CD4−CD8− double negative T cells reveals CG demethylation and a unique epigenetic architecture permissive to a broad stimulatory immune response 
T cell receptor (TCR) αβ+CD4−CD8− double negative T cells represent a rare T cell subset implicated in the pathogenesis of several autoimmune diseases. We investigated the DNA methylation signature of double negative T cells to gain insight into the epigenetic architecture of peripheral blood primary human double negative T cells compared to autologous CD4+ and CD8+ T cells. We identified 2984 CG sites across the genome with unique loss of DNA methylation in double negative T cells, and showed significant reduction in mRNA expression of DNA methyltransferases DNMT1, DNMT3A, and DNMT3B. DNA methylation was increased in CD8A/CD8B and CD4 consistent with epigenetic repression of both the CD8 and CD4 genetic loci in double negative T cells. We show a consistent increase in non-CG methylation in double negative T cells, a finding suggestive of pluripotency. Network analyses indicate a strong relationship between double negative T cells and functions related to cell –cell interaction, cell adhesion, and cell activation pathways. Our data also suggest a robust pro-inflammatory epigenetic signature in double negative T cells, consistent with a transcriptional permissiveness in key inflammatory cytokines including IFNγ, IL-17F, IL-12B, IL-5, IL-18, TNFSF11 (RANKL), and TNFSF13B (BLYS or BAFF). These findings highlight an epigenetic basis for a role of double negative T cells in autoimmunity.
PMCID: PMC4278938  PMID: 25451162
Double negative; T cell; Epigenome; Methylome; DNA methylation
24.  Early disease onset is predicted by a higher genetic risk for lupus and is associated with a more severe phenotype in lupus patients 
Annals of the rheumatic diseases  2010;70(1):151-156.
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a chronic, multiorgan, autoimmune disease that affects people of all ages and ethnicities.
To explore the relationship between age at disease onset and many of the diverse manifestations of SLE. Additionally, to determine the relationship between age of disease onset and genetic risk in patients with SLE.
The relationship between the age at disease onset and SLE manifestations were explored in a multiracial cohort of 1317 patients. Patients with SLE were genotyped across 19 confirmed genetic susceptibility loci for SLE. Logistic regression was used to determine the relationships between the number of risk alleles present and age of disease onset.
Childhood-onset SLE had higher odds of proteinuria, malar rash, anti-dsDNA antibody, haemolytic anaemia, arthritis and leucopenia (OR=3.03, 2.13, 2.08, 2.50, 1.89, 1.53, respectively; p values <0.0001, 0.0004, 0.0005, 0.0024, 0.0114, 0.045, respectively). In female subjects, the odds of having cellular casts were 2.18 times higher in childhood-onset than in adult-onset SLE (p=0.0027). With age of onset ≥50, the odds of having proteinuria, cellular casts, anti-nRNP antibody, anti-Sm antibody, anti-dsDNA antibody and seizures were reduced. However, late adult-onset patients with SLE have higher odds of developing photosensitivity than early adult-onset patients. Each SLE-susceptibility risk allele carried within the genome of patients with SLE increased the odds of having a childhood-onset disease in a race-specific manner: by an average of 48% in Gullah and 25% in African-Americans, but this was not significant in Hispanic and European-American lupus patients.
The genetic contribution towards predicting early-onset disease in patients with SLE is quantified for the first time. A more severe SLE phenotype is found in patients with early-onset disease in a large multi-racial cohort, independent of gender, race and disease duration.
PMCID: PMC3034281  PMID: 20881011

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