In spite of the well-known clustering of multiple autoimmune disorders in families, analyses of specific shared genes and polymorphisms between systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and other autoimmune diseases (ADs) have been limited. Therefore, we comprehensively tested autoimmune variants for association with SLE, aiming to identify pleiotropic genetic associations between these diseases. We compiled a list of 446 non–Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC) variants identified in genome-wide association studies (GWAS) of populations of European ancestry across 17 ADs. We then tested these variants in our combined Caucasian SLE cohorts of 1,500 cases and 5,706 controls. We tested a subset of these polymorphisms in an independent Caucasian replication cohort of 2,085 SLE cases and 2,854 controls, allowing the computation of a meta-analysis between all cohorts. We have uncovered novel shared SLE loci that passed multiple comparisons adjustment, including the VTCN1 (rs12046117, P = 2.02×10−06) region. We observed that the loci shared among the most ADs include IL23R, OLIG3/TNFAIP3, and IL2RA. Given the lack of a universal autoimmune risk locus outside of the MHC and variable specificities for different diseases, our data suggests partial pleiotropy among ADs. Hierarchical clustering of ADs suggested that the most genetically related ADs appear to be type 1 diabetes with rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn's disease with ulcerative colitis. These findings support a relatively distinct genetic susceptibility for SLE. For many of the shared GWAS autoimmune loci, we found no evidence for association with SLE, including IL23R. Also, several established SLE loci are apparently not associated with other ADs, including the ITGAM-ITGAX and TNFSF4 regions. This study represents the most comprehensive evaluation of shared autoimmune loci to date, supports a relatively distinct non–MHC genetic susceptibility for SLE, provides further evidence for previously and newly identified shared genes in SLE, and highlights the value of studies of potentially pleiotropic genes in autoimmune diseases.
It is well known that multiple autoimmune disorders cluster in families. However, all of the genetic variants that explain this clustering have not been discovered, and the specific genetic variants shared between systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and other autoimmune diseases (ADs) are not known. In order to better understand the genetic factors that explain this predisposition to autoimmunity, we performed a comprehensive evaluation of shared autoimmune genetic variants. First we considered results from 17 ADs and compiled a list with 446 significant genetic variants from these studies. We identified some genetic variants extensively shared between ADs, as well as the ADs that share the most variants. The genetic overlap between SLE and other ADs was modest. Next we tested how important all the 446 genetic variants were in our collection with a minimum of 1,500 SLE patients. Among the most significant variants in SLE, the majority had already been identified in previous studies, but we also discovered variants in two important immune genes. In summary, our data identified diseases with common genetic risk factors and novel SLE effects, and this supports a relatively distinct genetic susceptibility for SLE. This study helps delineate the genetic architecture of ADs.