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1.  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
2.  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
3.  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
4.  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
5.  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
6.  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
7.  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
8.  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
9.  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
10.  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
11.  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
12.  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
13.  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
14.  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
15.  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
17.  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
18.  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
19.  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
20.  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
21.  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
22.  Activation of the JAK/STAT pathway in Behcet’s Disease 
Genes and immunity  2014;16(2):170-175.
Th1/Th17-type T-cell responses are upregulated in Behcet’s disease (BD). However, signaling pathways associated with this aberrant immune response are not clarified. Whole-genome microarray profiling was performed with human U133 (Plus 2.0) chips using mRNA of isolated CD14+ monocytes and CD4+ T-cells from PBMC in patients with BD (n=9) and healthy controls (HC) (n=9). Flow cytometric analysis of unstimulated (US) and stimulated (PHA) STAT3 and pSTAT3 expressions of PBMCs were also analysed (BD and HC, both n=26). JAK1 was observed to be upregulated in both CD14+ monocytes (1.95 fold) and CD4+ T-lymphocytes (1.40 fold) of BD patients. Using canonical pathway enrichment analysis, JAK/STAT signaling was identified as activated in both CD14+ monocytes (p= 9.55E-03) and in CD4+ lymphocytes (p= 8.13E-04) in BD. Interferon signaling was also prominent among upregulated genes in CD14+ monocytes (p= 5.62E-05). Glucocorticoid receptor signaling and IL-6 signaling were among the most enriched pathways in differentially expressed genes in CD14+ monocytes (p= 2.45E-09, and 1.00E-06, respectively). Basal unstimulated total STAT3 expression was significantly higher in BD (1.2 vs 3.45, p<0.05). The JAK1/STAT3 signaling pathway is activated in BD, possibly through the activation of Th1/Th17-type cytokines such as IL-2, IFNγ, IL-6, IL-17 and IL-23.
PMCID: PMC4443896  PMID: 25410656
Behcet’s disease; JAK/STAT signaling; STAT3
23.  Horizons in Sjögren’s Syndrome Genetics 
Sjögren’s syndrome (SS) is a complex polygenic autoimmune disorder. A few major genetic effects have been identified. Historically, HLA and non-HLA genetic associations have been reported. Recently, the HLA region continued to reveal association findings. A new susceptibility region has been suggested by a study of a D6S349 microsatellite marker. Among non-HLA studies, recent association of immunoglobulin κ chain allotype KM1 with anti-La autoantibodies in primary Sjögren’s syndrome confirms findings in a study from two decades ago. Meanwhile, mouse models have been employed to study the genetic contribution to salivary lymphadenitis or dry eyes and mouth. Gene transfer exploration in mouse models shows promise. The authors review the HLA and non-HLA association studies and the mouse model work that has been reported. Newly developed genomic capacity will provide, in the future, a much closer approximation of the true picture of the genetic architecture of Sjögren’s syndrome.
PMCID: PMC4420170  PMID: 17963047
Sjögren’s syndrome; Genetics; HLA; Histocompatibility
24.  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

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