Diabetic kidney disease, or diabetic nephropathy (DN), is a major complication of diabetes and the leading cause of end-stage renal disease (ESRD) that requires dialysis treatment or kidney transplantation. In addition to the decrease in the quality of life, DN accounts for a large proportion of the excess mortality associated with type 1 diabetes (T1D). Whereas the degree of glycemia plays a pivotal role in DN, a subset of individuals with poorly controlled T1D do not develop DN. Furthermore, strong familial aggregation supports genetic susceptibility to DN. However, the genes and the molecular mechanisms behind the disease remain poorly understood, and current therapeutic strategies rarely result in reversal of DN. In the GEnetics of Nephropathy: an International Effort (GENIE) consortium, we have undertaken a meta-analysis of genome-wide association studies (GWAS) of T1D DN comprising ∼2.4 million single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) imputed in 6,691 individuals. After additional genotyping of 41 top ranked SNPs representing 24 independent signals in 5,873 individuals, combined meta-analysis revealed association of two SNPs with ESRD: rs7583877 in the AFF3 gene (P = 1.2×10−8) and an intergenic SNP on chromosome 15q26 between the genes RGMA and MCTP2, rs12437854 (P = 2.0×10−9). Functional data suggest that AFF3 influences renal tubule fibrosis via the transforming growth factor-beta (TGF-β1) pathway. The strongest association with DN as a primary phenotype was seen for an intronic SNP in the ERBB4 gene (rs7588550, P = 2.1×10−7), a gene with type 2 diabetes DN differential expression and in the same intron as a variant with cis-eQTL expression of ERBB4. All these detected associations represent new signals in the pathogenesis of DN.
The global prevalence of diabetes has reached epidemic proportions, constituting a major health care problem worldwide. Diabetic kidney disease, or diabetic nephropathy (DN)—the major long term microvascular complication of diabetes—is associated with excess mortality among patients with type 1 diabetes. Even though DN has been shown to cluster in families, the underlying genetic and molecular pathways remain poorly defined. We have undertaken the largest genome-wide association study and meta-analysis to date on DN and on its most severe form of kidney disease, end-stage renal disease (ESRD). We identified new loci significantly associated with diabetic ESRD: AFF3 and an intergenic locus on chromosome 15q26 residing between RGMA and MCTP2. Our functional analyses suggest that AFF3 influences renal tubule fibrosis, a pathological hallmark of severe DN. Another locus in ERBB4 was suggestively associated with DN and resides in the same intronic region as a variant affecting the expression of ERBB4. Subsequent pathway analysis of the genes co-expressed with ERBB4 indicated involvement of fibrosis.