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1.  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
2.  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
3.  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
4.  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
5.  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
6.  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
7.  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
8.  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
9.  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
10.  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
11.  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
12.  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
14.  An update on belimumab for the treatment of lupus 
B-lymphocyte stimulator (BLyS), a homeostatic factor for B-cell differentiation and survival, has a major role in B-cell expansion and autoreactivity that characterize systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). Belimumab, a BLyS-specific inhibitor, has shown promising evidence of efficacy in several preclinical and clinical studies in SLE. Two recent large randomized controlled trials yielded a significant positive effect of the drug compared to placebo in patients with active disease. In this review, we discuss basic aspects of B-cell and BLyS biology in SLE and summarize the evidence supporting a role of belimumab in SLE, from animal studies to phase III clinical trials.
PMCID: PMC3044792  PMID: 21383914
B lymphocyte stimulator; lupus erythematosus; belimumab
15.  Confirmation of an Association Between rs6822844 at the IL2–IL21 Region and Multiple Autoimmune Diseases 
Arthritis and rheumatism  2010;62(2):323-329.
Autoimmune diseases often have susceptibility genes in common, indicating similar molecular mechanisms. Increasing evidence suggests that rs6822844 at the IL2–IL21 region is strongly associated with multiple autoimmune diseases in individuals of European descent. This study was undertaken to attempt to replicate the association between rs6822844 and 6 different immune-mediated diseases in non-European populations, and to perform disease-specific and overall meta-analyses using data from previously published studies.
We evaluated case–control associations between rs6822844 and celiac disease (CD) in subjects from Argentina; rheumatoid arthritis (RA), type 1 diabetes mellitus (DM), primary Sjögren's syndrome (SS), and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) in subjects from Colombia; and Behçet's disease (BD) in subjects from Turkey. Allele and gene distributions were compared between cases and controls. Meta-analyses were performed using data from the present study and previous studies.
We detected significant associations of rs6822844 with SLE (P = 0.008), type 1 DM (P = 0.014), RA (P = 0.019), and primary SS (P = 0.033) but not with BD (P = 0.34) or CD (P = 0.98). We identified little evidence of population differentiation (FST = 0.01) within cases and controls from Argentina and Colombia, suggesting that association was not influenced by population substructure. Disease-specific meta-analysis indicated significant association for RA (Pmeta = 3.61 × 10–6), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD; Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis) (Pmeta = 3.48 × 10–12), type 1 DM (Pmeta = 5.33 × 10–5), and CD (Pmeta = 5.30 × 10–3). Overall meta-analysis across all autoimmune diseases reinforced association with rs6822844 (23 data sets; Pmeta = 2.61 × 10–25, odds ratio 0.73 [95% confidence interval 0.69–0.78]).
Our results indicate that there is an association between rs6822844 and multiple auto-immune diseases in non-European populations. Meta-analysis results strongly reinforce this robust association across multiple autoimmune diseases in both European-derived and non-European populations.
PMCID: PMC3028384  PMID: 20112382
16.  A polymorphism within interleukin-21 receptor (IL21R) confers risk for systemic lupus erythematosus 
Arthritis and rheumatism  2009;60(8):2402-2407.
Interleukin (IL) 21 is a member of the type I cytokine superfamily that exerts a variety of effects on the immune system including B cell activation, plasma cell differentiation, and immunoglobulin production. The expression of IL21R is reduced in B cells from lupus patients, while IL21 serum levels are increased in both lupus patients and some lupus-murine models. We recently reported that polymorphisms within the IL21 gene are associated with increased susceptibility to lupus. Herein, we examined the genetic association between SNPs within IL21R and lupus.
We genotyped 17 SNPs in the IL21R gene in two large cohorts of lupus patients and ethnically-matched healthy controls. Genotyping was performed with the Illumina BeadStation 500GX instrument using Illumina Infinum II genotyping assays.
We identified and confirmed the association between rs3093301 within the IL21R gene and lupus in two independent European-derived and Hispanic cohorts (meta analysis odds ratio= 1.16, 95% CI= 1.08-1.25, meta analysis p=1.0×10-4).
We identified IL21R as a novel susceptibility gene for lupus.
PMCID: PMC2782592  PMID: 19644854
17.  Variants within MECP2, a key transcriptional regulator, are associated with increased susceptibility to lupus and differential gene expression in lupus patients 
Arthritis and rheumatism  2009;60(4):1076-1084.
Both genetic and epigenetic factors play an important role in the pathogenesis of lupus. Herein, we study methyl-CpG-binding protein 2 (MECP2) polymorphism in a large cohort of lupus patients and controls, and determine functional consequences of the lupus-associated MECP2 haplotype.
We genotyped 18 SNPs within MECP2, located on chromosome Xq28, in a large cohort of European-derived lupus patients and controls. We studied the functional effects of the lupus-associated MECP2 haplotype by determining gene expression profiles in B cell lines from female lupus patients with and without the lupus-associated MECP2 risk haplotype.
We confirm, replicate, and extend the genetic association between lupus and genetic markers within MECP2 in a large independent cohort of European-derived lupus patients and controls (OR= 1.35, p= 6.65×10−11). MECP2 is a dichotomous transcriptional regulator that either activates or represses gene expression. We identified 128 genes that are differentially expressed in lupus patients with the disease-associated MECP2 haplotype; most (~81%) are upregulated. Genes that were upregulated have significantly more CpG islands in their promoter regions compared to downregulated genes. Gene ontology analysis using the differentially expressed genes revealed significant association with epigenetic regulatory mechanisms suggesting that these genes are targets for MECP2 regulation in B cells. Further, at least 13 of the 104 upregulated genes are interferon-regulated genes. The disease-risk MECP2 haplotype is associated with increased expression of the MECP2 transcriptional co-activator CREB1, and decreased expression of the co-repressor HDAC1.
Polymorphism in the MECP2 locus is associated with lupus and, at least in part, contributes to the interferon signature observed in lupus patients.
PMCID: PMC2734382  PMID: 19333917
18.  Dehydroepiandrosterone in systemic lupus erythematosus 
Current rheumatology reports  2008;10(4):286-291.
Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is a weak androgen that exerts pleomorphic effects on the immune system. The hormone has no known receptor, and consequently, the mechanism of action of DHEA on immunocompetent cells remains poorly understood. Interestingly, serum levels of DHEA are decreased in patients with inflammatory disease including lupus, and these levels seem to inversely correlate with disease activity. Following encouraging studies demonstrating beneficial effects of DHEA supplementation in murine lupus models, a number of clinical studies have tested the effect of DHEA administration in lupus patients. DHEA treatment could improve patient’s overall quality of life assessment measures and glucocorticoid requirements in some lupus patients with mild to moderate disease, however, the effect of DHEA on disease activity in lupus patients remains controversial. Long term safety assessment studies are required in light of the reported effect of DHEA supplementation in lowering HDL cholesterol in lupus patients.
PMCID: PMC2701249  PMID: 18662508
19.  Diet Influences Expression of Autoimmune Associated Genes and Disease Severity By Epigenetic Mechanisms in a Transgenic Lupus Model 
Arthritis and rheumatism  2013;65(7):1872-1881.
Lupus flares when genetically predisposed people encounter appropriate environmental agents. Current evidence indicates that the environment contributes by inhibiting T cell DNA methylation, causing overexpression of normally silenced genes. DNA methylation depends on both dietary transmethylation micronutrients and Erk-regulated DNA methyltransferase 1 (Dnmt1) levels. We used transgenic mice to study interactions between diet, Dnmt1 levels and genetic predisposition on the development and severity of lupus.
A doxycycline-inducible Erk defect was bred into lupus-resistant (C57BL/6) or lupus-susceptible (C57BL/6xSJL) mouse strains. Doxycycline treated mice were fed a standard commercial diet for eighteen weeks then switched to diets supplemented(MS) or restricted(MR) intransmethylation micronutrients. Disease severity was assessed by anti-dsDNA antibodies, proteinuria, hematuria and histopathology of kidney tissues. Pyrosequencing was used to determine micronutrient effects on DNA methylation.
Doxycycline induced modest levels of anti-dsDNA antibodies in C57BL/6 mice and higher levels in C57BL/6xSJL mice. Doxycycline-treated C57BL/6xSJL mice developed hematuria and glomerulonephritis on the MR and standard but not the MS diet. In contrast C57BL/6 mice developed kidney disease only on the MR diet. Decreasing Erk signaling and methyl donors also caused demethylation and overexpression of the CD40lg gene in female mice, consistent with demethylation of the second X chromosome. Both the dietary methyl donor content and duration of treatment influenced methylation and expression of the CD40lg gene.
Dietary micronutrients that affect DNA methylation can exacerbate or ameliorate SLE disease in this transgenic murine lupus model, and contribute to lupus susceptibility and severity through genetic/epigenetic interactions.
PMCID: PMC3735138  PMID: 23576011
Extracellular Receptor Kinase (Erk; Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE; CD70; micronutrients; CD40L; KirL1
Methods in molecular medicine  2004;102:285-294.
CD4+ T cell DNA hypomethylation may contribute to the development of drug induced and idiopathic human lupus. Inhibiting DNA methylation in mature CD4+ T cells causes MHC-specific autoreactivity in vitro. The lupus-inducing drugs hydralazine and procainamide also inhibit T cell DNA methylation and induce autoreactivity, and T cells from patients with active lupus have hypomethylated DNA and a similarly autoreactive T cell subset. Further, T cells treated with DNA methylation inhibitors demethylate the same sequences that demethylate in T cells from patients with active lupus. The pathologic significance of the autoreactivity induced by inhibiting T cell DNA methylation has been tested by treating murine T cells in vitro with drugs which modify DNA methylation, then injecting the cells into syngeneic female mice. Mice receiving CD4+ T cells demethylated by a variety of agents including procainamide and hydralazine develop a lupus-like disease. Further, transgenic mice with an inducible T cell DNA methylation defect also develop lupus-like autoimmunity. This chapter describes the protocols for inducing autoreactivity in murine T cells in vitro, and inducing autoimmunity in vivo using an adoptive transfer approach or transgenic animal models.
PMCID: PMC4023250  PMID: 15286391
Lupus; drug-induced lupus; DNA methylation; animal models; autoimmunity
21.  Trans-Ancestral Studies Fine Map the SLE-Susceptibility Locus TNFSF4 
PLoS Genetics  2013;9(7):e1003554.
We previously established an 80 kb haplotype upstream of TNFSF4 as a susceptibility locus in the autoimmune disease SLE. SLE-associated alleles at this locus are associated with inflammatory disorders, including atherosclerosis and ischaemic stroke. In Europeans, the TNFSF4 causal variants have remained elusive due to strong linkage disequilibrium exhibited by alleles spanning the region. Using a trans-ancestral approach to fine-map the locus, utilising 17,900 SLE and control subjects including Amerindian/Hispanics (1348 cases, 717 controls), African-Americans (AA) (1529, 2048) and better powered cohorts of Europeans and East Asians, we find strong association of risk alleles in all ethnicities; the AA association replicates in African-American Gullah (152,122). The best evidence of association comes from two adjacent markers: rs2205960-T (P = 1.71×10−34, OR = 1.43[1.26–1.60]) and rs1234317-T (P = 1.16×10−28, OR = 1.38[1.24–1.54]). Inference of fine-scale recombination rates for all populations tested finds the 80 kb risk and non-risk haplotypes in all except African-Americans. In this population the decay of recombination equates to an 11 kb risk haplotype, anchored in the 5′ region proximal to TNFSF4 and tagged by rs2205960-T after 1000 Genomes phase 1 (v3) imputation. Conditional regression analyses delineate the 5′ risk signal to rs2205960-T and the independent non-risk signal to rs1234314-C. Our case-only and SLE-control cohorts demonstrate robust association of rs2205960-T with autoantibody production. The rs2205960-T is predicted to form part of a decameric motif which binds NF-κBp65 with increased affinity compared to rs2205960-G. ChIP-seq data also indicate NF-κB interaction with the DNA sequence at this position in LCL cells. Our research suggests association of rs2205960-T with SLE across multiple groups and an independent non-risk signal at rs1234314-C. rs2205960-T is associated with autoantibody production and lymphopenia. Our data confirm a global signal at TNFSF4 and a role for the expressed product at multiple stages of lymphocyte dysregulation during SLE pathogenesis. We confirm the validity of trans-ancestral mapping in a complex trait.
Author Summary
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE/lupus) is a complex disease in which the body's immune cells cause inflammation in one or more systems to cause the associated morbidity. Hormones, the environment and genes are all causal contributors to SLE and over the past several years the genetic component of SLE has been firmly established. Several genes which are regulators of the immune system are associated with disease risk. We have established one of these, the tumour-necrosis family superfamily member 4 (TNFSF4) gene, as a lupus susceptibility gene in Northern Europeans. A major obstacle in pinpointing the marker(s) at TNFSF4 which best explain the risk of SLE has been the strong correlation (linkage disequilibrium, LD) between adjacent markers across the TNFSF4 region in this population. To address this, we have typed polymorphisms in several populations in addition to the European groups. The mixed ancestry of these populations gives a different LD pattern than that found in Europeans, presenting a method of pinpointing the section of the TNFSF4 region which results in SLE susceptibility. The Non-European populations have allowed identification of a polymorphism likely to regulate expression of TNFSF4 to increase susceptibility to SLE.
PMCID: PMC3715547  PMID: 23874208
22.  Environmental Exposure, Estrogen and Two X Chromosomes are Required for Disease Development in an Epigenetic Model of Lupus 
Journal of Autoimmunity  2011;38(2-3):J135-J143.
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is an autoimmune disease primarily afflicting women. The reason for the gender bias is unclear, but genetic susceptibility, estrogen and environmental agents appear to play significant roles in SLE pathogenesis. Environmental agents can contribute to lupus susceptibility through epigenetic mechanisms. We used (C57BL/6 × SJL)F1 mice transgenic for a dominant-negative MEK (dnMEK) that was previously shown to be inducibly and selectively expressed in T cells. In this model, induction of the dnMEK by doxycycline treatment suppresses T cell ERK signaling, decreasing DNA methyltransferase expression and resulting in DNA demethylation, overexpression of immune genes Itgal (CD11a) and Tnfsf7 (CD70), and anti-dsDNA antibody. To examine the role of gender and estrogen in this model, male and female transgenic mice were neutered and implanted with time-release pellets delivering placebo or estrogen. Doxycycline induced IgG anti-dsDNA antibodies in intact and neutered, placebo-treated control female but not male transgenic mice. Glomerular IgG deposits were also found in the kidneys of female but not male transgenic mice, and not in the absence of doxycycline. Estrogen enhanced anti-dsDNA IgG antibodies only in transgenic, ERK-impaired female mice. Decreased ERK activation also resulted in overexpression and demethylation of the X-linked methylation-sensitive gene CD40lg in female but not male mice, consistent with demethylation of the second X chromosome in the females. The results show that both estrogen and female gender contribute to the female predisposition in lupus susceptibility through hormonal and epigenetic X chromosome effects and through suppression of ERK signaling by environmental agents.
PMCID: PMC3312994  PMID: 22142890
Extracellular Receptor Kinase (ERK); Systemic Lupus erythematosus (SLE); Mouse
23.  GFP Affects Human T Cell Activation and Cytokine Production following In Vitro Stimulation 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(4):e50068.
There are many Green Fluorescent Proteins (GFPs) originating from diverse species that are invaluable to cell biologists today because of their ability to provide experimental visualization of protein expression. Since their initial discovery, they have been modified and improved to provide more stable variants with emission ranges spanning a wide array of colors. Due to their ease of expression both in-vitro and in-vivo, they are an attractive choice for use as markers in molecular biology. GFPs are generally assumed to have negligible effects on the cells to which they have been introduced. However, a growing number of reports indicate that this is not always the case. Consequently, because of GFP's ubiquitous use, it is important to document the nature and extent of unintended effects. In this report, we find that GFP affects T cell activation, leading to defects in clustering, upregulation of the activation marker CD25 and IL-2 cytokine production following stimulation in human primary T cells that also express TurboGFP. We utilized a reporter assay which has been routinely used to assay the NF-κB pathway and found reduced NF-κB activitation in stimulated HEK293 and HeLa cells that were co-transfected with TurboGFP, suggesting that GFP interferes with signaling through the NF-κB pathway. These findings indicate that the utilization of GFP-tagged vectors may negatively impact in vitro experiments in T cells, emphasizing the critical importance of controls to identify any GFP-induced effects.
PMCID: PMC3618152  PMID: 23577054
24.  Fine Mapping of Xq28: Both MECP2 and IRAK1 Contribute to Risk for Systemic Lupus Erythematosus in Multiple Ancestral Groups 
Annals of the rheumatic diseases  2012;72(3):437-444.
The Xq28 region containing IRAK1 and MECP2 has been identified as a risk locus for systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) in previous genetic association studies. However, due to the strong linkage disequilibrium between IRAK1 and MECP2, it remains unclear which gene is affected by the underlying causal variant(s) conferring risk of SLE.
We fine-mapped ≥136 SNPs in a ~227kb region on Xq28, containing IRAK1, MECP2 and 7 adjacent genes (L1CAM, AVPR2, ARHGAP4, NAA10, RENBP, HCFC1 and TMEM187), for association with SLE in 15,783 case-control subjects derived from 4 different ancestral groups.
Multiple SNPs showed strong association with SLE in European Americans, Asians and Hispanics at P<5×10−8 with consistent association in subjects with African ancestry. Of these, 6 SNPs located in the TMEM187-IRAK1-MECP2 region captured the underlying causal variant(s) residing in a common risk haplotype shared by all 4 ancestral groups. Among them, rs1059702 best explained the Xq28 association signals in conditional testings and exhibited the strongest P value in trans-ancestral meta-analysis (Pmeta=1.3×10−27, OR=1.43), and thus was considered to be the most-likely causal variant. The risk allele of rs1059702 results in the amino acid substitution S196F in IRAK1 and had previously been shown to increase NF-κB activity in vitro. We also found that the homozygous risk genotype of rs1059702 was associated with lower mRNA levels of MECP2, but not IRAK1, in SLE patients (P=0.0012) and healthy controls (P=0.0064).
These data suggest contributions of both IRAK1 and MECP2 to SLE susceptibility.
PMCID: PMC3567234  PMID: 22904263
Systemic Lupus Erythematosus; Gene Polymorphism; Xq28; IRAK1; MECP2
25.  Variation in the ICAM1–ICAM4–ICAM5 locus is associated with systemic lupus erythematosus susceptibility in multiple ancestries 
Annals of the rheumatic diseases  2012;71(11):1809-1814.
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE; OMIM 152700) is a chronic autoimmune disease for which the aetiology includes genetic and environmental factors. ITGAM, integrin αΜ (complement component 3 receptor 3 subunit) encoding a ligand for intracellular adhesion molecule (ICAM) proteins, is an established SLE susceptibility locus. This study aimed to evaluate the independent and joint effects of genetic variations in the genes that encode ITGAM and ICAM.
The authors examined several markers in the ICAM1–ICAM4–ICAM5 locus on chromosome 19p13 and the single ITGAM polymorphism (rs1143679) using a large-scale case–control study of 17 481 unrelated participants from four ancestry populations. The single marker association and gene–gene interaction were analysed for each ancestry, and a meta-analysis across the four ancestries was performed.
The A-allele of ICAM1–ICAM4–ICAM5 rs3093030, associated with elevated plasma levels of soluble ICAM1, and the A-allele of ITGAM rs1143679 showed the strongest association with increased SLE susceptibility in each of the ancestry populations and the trans-ancestry meta-analysis (ORmeta=1.16, 95% CI 1.11 to 1.22; p=4.88×10−10 and ORmeta=1.67, 95% CI 1.55 to 1.79; p=3.32×10−46, respectively). The effect of the ICAM single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) was independent of the effect of the ITGAM SNP rs1143679, and carriers of both ICAM rs3093030-AA and ITGAM rs1143679-AA had an OR of 4.08 compared with those with no risk allele in either SNP (95% CI 2.09 to 7.98; p=3.91×10−5).
These findings are the first to suggest that an ICAM–integrin-mediated pathway contributes to susceptibility to SLE.
PMCID: PMC3466387  PMID: 22523428

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