In the autoimmune disease systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), our normal antiviral defenses are inappropriately activated, resulting in over-activity of the type I interferon (IFN) pathway. This increased activity of the type I IFN pathway is an important primary pathogenic factor in the disease. Emerging evidence has implicated the antiviral helicases in this process. The antiviral helicases normally function as nucleic acid receptors in viral immunity. Genetic variations in antiviral helicase genes have been associated with SLE, supporting the idea that helicase pathways are involved in the primary pathogenesis of SLE. Studies have documented functional consequences of these genetic variations within the type I IFN pathway in human cell lines and SLE patients. In this review, we summarize the function of helicases in the anti-viral immune response, and how this response is dysregulated in SLE patients. In particular, we will focus on known functional genetic polymorphisms in the IFIH1 (MDA5) and mitochondrial antiviral signaling protein genes which have been implicated in human SLE. These data provide fascinating evidence for dysregulation of helicase-mediated innate immunity in SLE, and may support novel therapeutic strategies in the disease.
antiviral helicase; systemic lupus erythematosus; interferon
Approximately 40% of patients who survive acute episodes of thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura (TTP) associated with severe acquired ADAMTS13 deficiency experience one or more relapses. Risk factors for relapse other than severe ADAMTS13 deficiency and ADAMTS13 autoantibodies are unknown. ADAMTS13 autoantibodies, TTP episodes following infection or type I interferon treatment and reported ensuing systemic lupus erythematosus in some patients suggest immune dysregulation. This cross-sectional study asked whether autoantibodies against RNA-binding proteins or peripheral blood gene expression profiles measured during remission are associated with history of prior relapse in acquired ADAMTS13-deficient TTP. Peripheral blood from 38 well-characterized patients with autoimmune ADAMTS13-deficient TTP in remission was examined for autoantibodies and global gene expression. A subset of TTP patients (9 patients, 24%) exhibited a peripheral blood gene signature composed of elevated ribosomal transcripts that associated with prior relapse. A non-overlapping subset of TTP patients (9 patients, 24%) displayed a peripheral blood type I interferon gene signature that associated with autoantibodies to RNA-binding proteins but not with history of relapse. Patients who had relapsed bimodally expressed higher HLA transcript levels independently of ribosomal transcripts. Presence of any one potential risk factor (ribosomal gene signature, elevated HLA-DRB1, elevated HLA-DRB5) associated with relapse (OR = 38.4; p = 0.0002) more closely than any factor alone or all factors together. Levels of immune transcripts typical of natural killer (NK) and T lymphocytes positively correlated with ribosomal gene expression and number of prior episodes but not with time since the most recent episode. Flow cytometry confirmed elevated expression of cell surface markers encoded by these transcripts on T and/or NK cell subsets of patients who had relapsed. These data associate elevated ribosomal and immune transcripts with relapse history in acquired, ADAMTS13-deficient TTP.
Alleles of IRF8 are associated with susceptibility to both systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and multiple sclerosis (MS). While high type I interferon (IFN) is thought to be causal in SLE, type I IFN is used as a therapy in MS. We investigated whether IRF8 alleles were associated with type I IFN levels or serologic profiles in SLE and MS. Alleles which have been previously associated with SLE or MS were genotyped in SLE and MS patients. The MS-associated rs17445836G allele was associated with anti-dsDNA autoantibodies in SLE patients (meta-analysis OR=1.92). The same allele was associated with decreased serum IFN activity in SLE patients with anti-dsDNA antibodies, and with decreased type I IFN-induced gene expression in PBMC from anti-dsDNA negative SLE patients. In secondary progressive MS patients, rs17445836G was associated with decreased serum type I IFN. Rs17445836G was associated with increased IRF8 expression in SLE patient B cells. In summary, IRF8 rs17445836G is associated with human autoimmune disease characterized by low type I IFN levels, and this may have pharmacogenetic relevance as type I IFN is modulated in SLE and MS. The association with autoantibodies and increased IRF8 expression in B cells supports a role for rs17445836G in humoral tolerance.
systemic lupus erythematosus; type I interferon; autoantibodies; interferon regulatory factors
Hyperactivity of the type I interferon (IFN) pathway is involved in the pathogenesis of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). Immunoglobulin like transcript (ILT3) is an immunohibitory transmembrane molecule which is induced by type I IFNs. ILT3 is expressed by plasmacytoid dendritic cells (PDCs), monocytoid dendritic cells (MDCs), and monocytes/macrophages. Given the pathogenic role of IFN in SLE, we hypothesised that the IFN-induced immunosuppressive ILT3 receptor may be dysfunctional in human SLE.
132 European-derived and 79 Hispanic-American SLE patients were genotyped for two coding-change single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) predicted to interfere with protein folding in ILT3 (rs11540761 and rs1048801). 116 control DNA samples and sera from healthy controls were also studied. We detected associations between ILT3 genotype and serum cytokine profiles. ILT3 expression levels on PDCs and MDCs from 18 patients and 10 controls were studied by flow cytometry.
The rs11540761 SNP in the extracellular region was associated with decreased cell surface expression of ILT3 on circulating MDCs and to a lesser extent PDCs in SLE patients. The cytoplasmically located rs1048801 SNP was not associated with a change in dendritic cells expression of ILT3. Both SNPs were significantly and independently associated with increased levels of serum type I IFN activity in SLE patients. The rs1048801 SNP was also associated with increased serum levels of TNF-α.
Loss-of-function polymorphisms in ILT3 are associated with increased inflammatory cytokine levels in SLE, supporting a biological role for ILT3 in SLE.
interferons; systemic lupus erythematosus; Sjogren’s syndrome; multiple sclerosis; scleroderma; systemic; type I diabetes; autoimmune thyroid disease
Genetic variation in interferon regulatory factor 5 (IRF5) has been associated with risk of developing systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), and this association is largely dependent upon anti-Ro autoantibodies. We studied a unique cohort of anti-Ro positive individuals with diverse diagnoses to determine if IRF5 genotype associated with maternal diagnosis or progression of autoimmunity.
We genotyped haplotype-tagging polymorphisms in IRF5 in 93 European ancestry subjects recruited to the Research Registry for Neonatal Lupus who all had high titer anti-Ro autoantibodies and a child with neonatal lupus (NL), and allele frequencies were compared to non-autoimmune controls. The mothers diagnoses included SLE, Sjogren’s syndrome (SS), undifferentiated autoimmune syndrome (UAS), and asymptomatic.
The SLE-risk haplotype of IRF5 was enriched in all anti-Ro positive subjects except those with SS (OR = 2.55, p=8.8×10−4). Even asymptomatic individuals with anti-Ro antibodies were enriched for the SLE-risk haplotype (OR=2.69, p=0.019). The same haplotype was more prevalent in subjects who were initially asymptomatic, but developed symptomatic SLE during follow up (OR=5.83, p=0.0024). Interestingly, SS was associated with two minor IRF5 haplotypes, and these same haplotypes were decreased in frequency in those with SLE and UAS.
The IRF5 SLE-risk haplotype was associated with anti-Ro antibodies in asymptomatic individuals as well as progression to SLE in asymptomatic anti-Ro positive individuals. SS in NL mothers was associated with different IRF5 haplotypes. These data suggest that IRF5 polymorphisms play a role in serologic autoimmunity in humans and may promote the progression to clinical autoimmunity.
systemic lupus erythematosus; interferon; autoantibodies; neonatal lupus; Sjogren’s syndrome
Genetic studies of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) have been successful, identifying numerous risk factors for human disease. While the list is not yet complete, it is clear that important immune system pathways are represented, one of which being type I interferon (IFN). Circulating type I IFN levels are high in SLE patients and this IFN pathway activation is heritable in families with SLE. We summarize our current understanding of the genetics of the type I IFN pathway in SLE, with an emphasis on studies that demonstrate an impact of the SLE-risk alleles upon type I IFN pathway activation in SLE patients. These studies illustrate that variations in type I IFN pathway genes represent a common genetic feature of SLE. By understanding the genetic regulation of type I IFN, we may be able to intervene in a more personalized fashion, based upon the molecular dysregulation present in a given individual.
autoantibodies; autoimmune diseases; genetics; interferon; systemic lupus erythematosus
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) patients frequently have high circulating tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α) levels. We explored circulating TNF-α levels in SLE families to determine whether high levels of TNF-α were clustered in a heritable pattern. We measured TNF-α in 242 SLE patients, 361 unaffected family members, 23 unaffected spouses of SLE patients, and 62 unrelated healthy controls. Familial correlations and relative recurrence risk rates for the high TNF-α trait were assessed. SLE-affected individuals had the highest TNF-α levels, and TNF-α was significantly higher in unaffected first degree relatives than healthy unrelated subjects (P = 0.0025). No Mendelian patterns were observed, but 28.4% of unaffected first degree relatives of SLE patients had high TNF-α levels, resulting in a first degree relative recurrence risk of 4.48 (P = 2.9 × 10−5). Interestingly, the median TNF-α value in spouses was similar to that of the first degree relatives. Concordance of the TNF-α trait (high versus low) in SLE patients and their spouses was strikingly high at 78.2%. These data support a role for TNF-α in SLE pathogenesis, and TNF-α levels may relate with heritable factors. The high degree of concordance in SLE patients and their spouses suggests that environmental factors may also play a role in the observed familial aggregation.
SLE disease manifestations are highly variable between patients, and the prevalence of individual clinical features differs significantly by ancestry. Serum tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α) is elevated in some SLE patients, and may play a role in disease pathogenesis. We detected associations between serum TNF-α, clinical manifestations, autoantibodies, and serum IFN-α in a large multi-ancestral SLE cohort.
We studied serum TNF-α in 653 SLE patients, including 214 African-American, 298 European-Americans and 141 Hispanic-American subjects. TNF-α was measured using ELISA, and IFN-α was measured with a functional reporter cell assay. Stratified and multivariate analyses were used to detect associations in each ancestral background separately, with meta-analysis when appropriate.
Serum TNF-α levels were significantly higher in SLE patients than in nonautoimmune controls (p<5.0×10−3 for each ancestral background). High serum TNF-α was positively correlated with high serum IFN-α when tested in the same sample across all ancestral backgrounds (meta-analysis OR=1.8, p=1.2×10−3). While serum TNF-α levels alone did not differ significantly between SLE patients of different ancestral backgrounds, the proportion of patients with concurrently high TNF-α and high IFN-α was highest in African-Americans and lowest in European-Americans (p=5.0×10−3). Serum TNF-α was not associated with autoantibodies, clinical criteria for the diagnosis of SLE, or age at time of sample.
Serum TNF-α levels are high in many SLE patients, and we observed a positive correlation between serum TNF-α and IFN-α. These data support a role for TNF-α in SLE pathogenesis across all ancestral backgrounds, and suggest important cytokine subgroups within the disease.
systemic lupus erythematosus; tumor necrosis factor alpha; autoantibodies, ancestry
To evaluate serum interferon-α (IFNα) activity in the context of autoantibody profiles in patients with juvenile dermatomyositis (JDM).
Sera from 36 JDM patients were analyzed. Autoantibody profiles were determined by probing microarrays, fabricated with ~80 distinct autoantigens, with serum and a Cy3-conjugated secondary antibody. Arrays were scanned and analyzed to determine antigen reactivity. Serum IFNα activity was measured using a functional reporter cell assay. Sera were assayed alone or in combination with cellular material released from necrotic U937 cells to stimulate peripheral blood mononuclear cells from healthy donors in vitro, and IFNα production in culture was measured by a dissociation-enhanced lanthanide fluorescent immunoassay (DELFIA).
Reactivity against at least 1 of 41 autoantigens on the microarray, including Ro 52, Ro 60, La, Sm, and RNP, was observed in 75% of the serum samples from patients with JDM. IFNα activity was detected in 7 samples by reporter cell assay. The reporter cell assay showed a significant association of reactivity against Ro, La, Sm, and proliferating cell nuclear antigen with serum IFNα activity (P = 0.005). Significance Analysis of Microarrays (SAM) identified increased reactivity against Sm, RNP, Ro 52, U1-C, and Mi-2 in these sera. Sixteen samples induced IFNα production as measured by DELFIA, and there was a significant association of reactivity against Ro, La, Sm, and RNP with the induction of IFNα by serum and necrotic cell material (P = 0.034). SAM identified increased reactivity against Ro 60 in these sera.
These data support the hypothesis that nucleic acid–associated autoantibodies, including the Ro/La and Sm/RNP complexes, may stimulate the production of active IFNα in children with JDM.
The type I interferon (IFN) pathway is activated in many patients with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), and high serum levels of IFN are associated with anti-SSA/Ro autoantibodies. To investigate the clinical features associated with type I IFN production in vivo, we compared serum IFN activity in individuals with anti-SSA/Ro antibodies who were asymptomatic with that in individuals with clinical manifestations of SLE or Sjögren's syndrome (SS).
Antibody-positive sera from 84 mothers of children with manifestations of neonatal lupus were studied for type I IFN activity, using a functional reporter cell assay. Maternal health status was characterized as asymptomatic, SS, SLE, pauci-SLE, or pauci-SS, based on a screening questionnaire, telephone interview, and review of medical records. The prefix “pauci-” indicates symptoms insufficient for a formal classification of the disease.
Only 4% of asymptomatic mothers had high serum type I IFN activity, compared with 73% with pauci-SLE (P = 5.7 × 10−5), 35% with SLE (P = 0.011), and 32% of patients with SS (P = 0.032). One of the 4 patients with pauci-SS had high levels of IFN. The majority of patients for whom longitudinal data were available had stable type I IFN activity over time, and changes in IFN activity were not clearly accompanied by changes in the clinical diagnosis.
Patients with SLE, patients with pauci-SLE, and patients with SS are more likely to have high serum IFN activity than asymptomatic individuals with SSA/Ro autoantibodies, suggesting that these autoantibodies are insufficient for activation of the type I IFN pathway, and that disease-specific factors are important for type I IFN generation in vivo.
Infliximab, a chimeric, monoclonal, anti-TNF antibody has been shown to be safe and efficacious for refractory sarcoidosis, we investigated whether adalimumab, a fully human, anti-TNF monoclonal antibody, is similarly safe and efficacious in refractory pulmonary sarcoidosis.
An open-label, single-center study was conducted in 11 patients with refractory pulmonary sarcoidosis. Patients received adalimumab 40 mg weekly for 45 weeks, with a final follow-up at Week 52. The primary endpoint was the percent change in predicted forced vital capacity (FVC) at 24 weeks. Secondary efficacy parameters included the 6-minute walk test (6MWT), Borg dyspnea score, and Physician’s (PGA) and Patient’s (PaGA) Global Assessments. A successful outcome of the study was defined as reduction in immunosuppressive therapy (prednisone to 10 mg or less), improvement in FVC of 5% or greater, improvement in 6-minute walk test distance (6MWD) of 50 meter or greater at the end of weeks 24 and 52.
Eleven patients received adalimumab and had 24-week follow-ups. Only ten patients had a Week 52 evaluation. FVC stabilized in seven patients, and four patients showed improvement in FVC. Five patients had improved 6MWD, and nine had lower Borg dyspnea scores. PGA and PaGA improved at weeks 24 and 52 for all patients (P<0.008 for all comparisons). Among 11 patients who underwent adalimumab treatment, 9 (82%) and 8 (80%) had a successful outcome at the end of 24 and 52 weeks respectively. No severe adverse incidents were reported.
In this small, open-label study, adalimumab improved refractory pulmonary sarcoidosis and was well tolerated (ClinicalTrials.gov identifier NCT00311246).
pulmonary sarcoidosis; anti-TNF-α antibody; adalimumab
Neuromyelitis optica (NMO) is characterized by selective inflammation of the spinal cord and optic nerves but is distinct from multiple sclerosis (MS). Interferon (IFN)-β mitigates disease activity in MS, but is controversial in NMO, with a few reports of disease worsening after IFN-β therapy in this highly active disease. In systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), IFNs adversely affect disease activity. This study examines for the first time whether serum IFN-α/β activity and IFN-β-induced responses in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (MNC) are abnormally elevated in NMO, as they are in SLE, but contrast to low levels in MS.
Serum type I IFN-α/β activity was measured by a previously validated bioassay of 3 IFN-stimulated genes (RT-PCR sensitivity, 0.1 U/ml) rather than ELISA, which has lower sensitivity and specificity for measuring serum IFNs. IFN responses in PBMNC were assessed by in vitro IFN-β-induced activation of phospho-tyrosine-STAT1 and phospho-serine-STAT1 transcription factors, and MxA proteins using Western blots.
Serum IFN-α/β activity was highest in SLE patients, followed by healthy subjects and NMO, but was surprisingly low in therapy-naïve MS. In functional assays in vitro, IFN-β-induced high levels of P-S-STAT1 in NMO and SLE, but not in MS and controls. IFN-β-induced MxA protein levels were elevated in NMO and SLE compared to MS.
Serum IFN activity and IFN-β-induced responses in PBMNC are elevated in SLE and NMO patients versus MS. This argues for similarities in pathophysiology between NMO and SLE and provides an explanation for IFN-induced disease worsening in NMO.
NMO; MS; SLE; Interferon; STAT1; MxA
High serum interferon α (IFNα) activity is a heritable risk factor for systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). Auto-antibodies found in SLE form immune complexes which can stimulate IFNα production by activating endosomal Toll-like receptors and interferon regulatory factors (IRFs), including IRF5. Genetic variation in IRF5 is associated with SLE susceptibility; however, it is unclear how IRF5 functional genetic elements contribute to human disease.
1034 patients with SLE and 989 controls of European ancestry, 555 patients with SLE and 679 controls of African–American ancestry, and 73 patients with SLE of South African ancestry were genotyped at IRF5 polymorphisms, which define major haplotypes. Serum IFNα activity was measured using a functional assay.
In European ancestry subjects, anti-double-stranded DNA (dsDNA) and anti-Ro antibodies were each associated with different haplotypes characterised by a different combination of functional genetic elements (OR > 2.56, p >003C; 1.9×10−14 for both). These IRF5 haplotype-auto-antibody associations strongly predicted higher serum IFNα in patients with SLE and explained > 70% of the genetic risk of SLE due to IRF5. In African–American patients with SLE a similar relationship between serology and IFNα was observed, although the previously described European ancestry-risk haplotype was present at admixture proportions in African–American subjects and absent in African patients with SLE.
The authors define a novel risk haplotype of IRF5 that is associated with anti-dsDNA antibodies and show that risk of SLE due to IRF5 genotype is largely dependent upon particular auto-antibodies. This suggests that auto-antibodies are directly pathogenic in human SLE, resulting in increased IFNα in cooperation with particular combinations of IRF5 functional genetic elements.
SLE is a systemic autoimmune disorder affecting multiple organ systems including the skin, musculoskeletal, renal and haematopoietic systems. Humoral autoimmunity is a hallmark of SLE, and patients frequently have circulating auto-antibodies directed against dsDNA, as well as RNA binding proteins (RBP). Anti-RBP autoantibodies include antibodies which recognize Ro, La, Smith (anti-Sm), and ribonucleoprotein (anti-nRNP), collectively referred to as anti-retinol-binding protein). Anti-retinol-binding protein and anti-dsDNA auto-antibodies are rare in the healthy population.1 These auto-antibodies can be present in sera for years preceding the onset of clinical SLE illness2 and are likely pathogenic in SLE.34
Background: In systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), antibodies directed at RNA-binding proteins (anti-RBP) are associated with high serum type I interferon (IFN), which plays an important role in SLE pathogenesis. African-Americans (AA) are more likely to develop SLE, and SLE is also more severe in this population. We hypothesized that peripheral blood gene expression patterns would differ between AA and European-American (EA) SLE patients, and between those with anti-RBP antibodies and those who lack these antibodies.
Methods: Whole blood RNA from 33 female SLE patients and 16 matched female controls from AA and EA ancestral backgrounds was analyzed on Affymetrix Gene 1.0 ST gene expression arrays. Ingenuity Pathway Analysis was used to compare the top differentially expressed canonical pathways amongst the sample groups. An independent cohort of 116 SLE patients was used to replicate findings using quantitative real-time PCR (qPCR).
Results: Both AA and EA patients with positive anti-RBP antibodies showed over-expression of similar IFN-related canonical pathways, such as IFN Signaling (P = 1.3 × 10−7 and 6.3 × 10−11 in AA vs. EA respectively), Antigen Presenting Pathway (P = 1.8 × 10−5 and 2.5 × 10−6), and a number of pattern recognition receptor pathways. In anti-RBP negative (RBP−) patients, EA subjects demonstrated similar IFN-related pathway activation, whereas no IFN-related pathways were detected in RBP−AA patients. qPCR validation confirmed similar results.
Conclusion: Our data show that IFN-induced gene expression is completely dependent on the presence of autoantibodies in AA SLE patients but not in EA patients. This molecular heterogeneity suggests differences in IFN-pathway activation between ancestral backgrounds in SLE. This heterogeneity may be clinically important, as therapeutics targeting this pathway are being developed.
systemic lupus erythematosus; interferon alpha; autoantibodies; ancestral background; interferon gamma
The characteristic serologic feature of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is autoantibodies against one’s own nucleic acid or nucleic acid-binding proteins – DNA and RNA-binding nuclear proteins. Circulating autoantibodies can deposit in the tissue, causing inflammation and production of cytokines such as type 1 interferon (IFN). Investigations in human patients and animal models have implicated environmental as well as genetic factors in the biology of the SLE autoimmune response. Viral/Bacterial nucleic acid is a potent stimulant of innate immunity by both toll-like receptor (TLR) and non-TLR signaling cascades. Additionally, foreign DNA may act as an immunogen to drive an antigen-specific antibody response. Self nucleic acid is normally restricted to the nucleus or the mitochondria, away from the DNA/RNA sensors, and mechanisms exist to differentiate between foreign and self nucleic acid. In normal immunity, a diverse range of DNA and RNA sensors in different cell types form a dynamic and integrated molecular network to prevent viral infection. In SLE, pathologic activation of these sensors occurs via immune complexes consisting of autoantibodies bound to DNA or to nucleic acid-protein complexes. In this review, we will discuss recent studies outlining how mismanaged nucleic acid sensing networks promote autoimmunity and result in the over-production of type I IFN. This information is critical for improving therapeutic strategies for SLE disease.
systemic lupus erythematosus; nucleic acid sensor; type 1 interferon; TLR; DNA; RNA
Interferon alpha (IFN-α) is a critical mediator of human systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). This review will summarize evidence supporting the role for IFN-α in the initiation of human SLE. IFN-α functions in viral immunity at the interface of innate and adaptive immunity, a position well suited to setting thresholds for autoimmunity. Some individuals treated with IFN-α for chronic viral infections develop de novo SLE, which frequently resolves when IFN-α is withdrawn, supporting the idea that IFN-α was causal. Abnormally high IFN-α levels are clustered within SLE families, suggesting that high serum IFN-α is a heritable risk factor for SLE. Additionally, SLE-risk genetic variants in the IFN-α pathway are gain of function in nature, resulting in either higher circulating IFN-α levels or greater sensitivity to IFN-α signaling in SLE patients. A recent genome-wide association study has identified additional novel genetic loci associated with high serum IFN-α in SLE patients. These data support the idea that genetically determined endogenous elevations in IFN-α predispose to human SLE. It is possible that some of these gain-of-function polymorphisms in the IFN-α pathway are useful in viral defense, and that risk of SLE is a burden we have taken on in the fight to defend ourselves against viral infection.
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is an autoimmune disease characterized by multiple genetic risk factors, high levels of interferon alpha (IFN-α), and the production of autoantibodies against components of the cell nucleus. Interferon regulatory factor 5 (IRF5) is a transcription factor which induces the transcription of IFN-α and other cytokines, and genetic variants of IRF5 have been strongly linked to SLE pathogenesis. IRF5 functions downstream of Toll-like receptors and other microbial pattern-recognition receptors, and immune complexes made up of SLE-associated autoantibodies seem to function as a chronic endogenous stimulus to this pathway. In this paper, we discuss the physiologic role of IRF5 in immune defense and the ways in which IRF5 variants may contribute to the pathogenesis of human SLE. Recent data regarding the role of IRF5 in both serologic autoimmunity and the overproduction of IFN-α in human SLE are summarized. These data support a model in which SLE-risk variants of IRF5 participate in a “feed-forward” mechanism, predisposing to SLE-associated autoantibody formation, and subsequently facilitating IFN-α production downstream of Toll-like receptors stimulated by immune complexes composed of these autoantibodies.
Increased IFN-α signaling is a heritable risk factor for systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). IFN induced with helicase C domain 1 (IFIH1) is a cytoplasmic dsRNA sensor that activates IFN-α pathway signaling. We studied the impact of the autoimmune-disease–associated IFIH1 rs1990760 (A946T) single nucleotide polymorphism upon IFN-α signaling in SLE patients in vivo. We studied 563 SLE patients (278 African-American, 179 European-American, and 106 Hispanic-American). Logistic regression models were used to detect genetic associations with autoantibody traits, and multiple linear regression was used to analyze IFN-α–induced gene expression in PBMCs in the context of serum IFN-α in the same blood sample. We found that the rs1990760 T allele was associated with anti-dsDNA Abs across all of the studied ancestral backgrounds (meta-analysis odds ratio = 1.34, p = 0.026). This allele also was associated with lower serum IFN-α levels in subjects who had anti-dsDNA Abs (p = 0.0026). When we studied simultaneous serum and PBMC samples from SLE patients, we found that the IFIH1 rs1990760 T allele was associated with increased IFN-induced gene expression in PBMCs in response to a given amount of serum IFN-α in anti-dsDNA–positive patients. This effect was independent of the STAT4 genotype, which modulates sensitivity to IFN-α in a similar way. Thus, the IFIH1 rs1990760 Tallele was associated with dsDNA Abs, and in patients with anti-dsDNA Abs this risk allele increased sensitivity to IFN-α signaling. These studies suggest a role for the IFIH1 risk allele in SLE in vivo.
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a highly heterogeneous autoimmune disorder characterized by differences in autoantibody profiles, serum cytokines, and clinical manifestations. We have previously conducted a case-case genome-wide association study (GWAS) of SLE patients to detect associations with autoantibody profile and serum interferon alpha (IFN-α). In this study, we used public gene expression data sets to rationally select additional single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) for validation. The top 200 GWAS SNPs were searched in a database which compares genome-wide expression data to genome-wide SNP genotype data in HapMap cell lines. SNPs were chosen for validation if they were associated with differential expression of 15 or more genes at a significance of P < 9 × 10−5. This resulted in 11 SNPs which were genotyped in 453 SLE patients and 418 matched controls. Three SNPs were associated with SLE-associated autoantibodies, and one of these SNPs was also associated with serum IFN-α (P < 4.5 × 10−3 for all). One additional SNP was associated exclusively with serum IFN-α. Case-control analysis was insensitive to these molecular subphenotype associations. This study illustrates the use of gene expression data to rationally select candidate loci in autoimmune disease, and the utility of stratification by molecular phenotypes in the discovery of additional genetic associations in SLE.
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a severe multi-system autoimmune disease which results from both genetic predisposition and environmental factors. Many lines of investigation support interferon alpha (IFN-α) as a causal agent in human lupus, and high levels of serum IFN-α are a heritable risk factor for SLE. Interferon regulatory factors (IRFs) are a family of transcription factors involved in host defense, which can induce transcription of IFN-α and other immune response genes following activation. In SLE, circulating immune complexes which contain nucleic acid are prevalent. These complexes are recognized by endosomal Toll-like receptors, resulting in activation of downstream IRF proteins. Genetic variants in the IRF5 and IRF7 genes have been associated with SLE susceptibility, and these same variants are associated with increased serum IFN-α in SLE patients. The increase in serum IFN-α related to IRF5 and 7 genotypes is observed only in patients with particular antibody specificities. This suggests that chronic stimulation of the endosomal Toll-like receptors by autoantibody immune complexes is required for IRF SLE-risk variants to cause elevation of circulating IFN-α and subsequent risk of SLE. Recently, genetic variation in the IRF8 gene has been associated with SLE and multiple sclerosis, and studies support an impact of IRF8 genotype on the IFN-α pathway. In summary, the SLE-associated polymorphisms in the IRF family of proteins appear to be gain-of-function variants, and understanding the impact of these variants upon the IFN-α pathway in vivo may guide therapeutic strategies directed at the Toll-like receptor/IRF/IFN-α pathway in SLE.
Interferon Alpha; Genetics; Systemic Lupus Erythematosus; Interferon Regulatory Factor; Autoantibodies; Autoimmunity
Lupus nephritis (LN) is a severe manifestation of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) that exhibits familial aggregation and may progress to end-stage renal disease (ESRD). LN is more prevalent among African Americans than among European Americans. This study was undertaken to investigate the hypothesis that the apolipoprotein L1 gene (APOL1) nephropathy risk alleles G1/G2, common in African Americans and rare in European Americans, contribute to the ethnic disparity in risk.
APOL1 G1 and G2 nephropathy alleles were genotyped in 855 African American SLE patients with LN-ESRD (cases) and 534 African American SLE patients without nephropathy (controls) and tested for association under a recessive genetic model, by logistic regression.
Ninety percent of the SLE patients were female. The mean ± SD age at SLE diagnosis was significantly lower in LN-ESRD cases than in SLE non-nephropathy controls (27.3 ± 10.9 years versus 39.5 ± 12.2 years). The mean ± SD time from SLE diagnosis to development of LN-ESRD in cases was 7.3 ± 7.2 years. The G1/G2 risk alleles were strongly associated with SLE-ESRD, with 25% of cases and 12% of controls having 2 nephropathy alleles (odds ratio [OR] 2.57, recessive model P = 1.49 × 10−9), and after adjustment for age, sex, and ancestry admixture (OR 2.72, P = 6.23 × 10−6). The age-, sex-, and admixture-adjusted population attributable risk for ESRD among patients with G1/G2 polymorphisms was 0.26, compared to 0.003 among European American patients. The mean time from SLE diagnosis to ESRD development was ~2 years earlier among individuals with APOL1 risk genotypes (P = 0.01).
APOL1 G1/G2 alleles strongly impact the risk of LN-ESRD in African Americans, as well as the time to progression to ESRD. The high frequency of these alleles in African Americans with near absence in European Americans explains an important proportion of the increased risk of LN-ESRD in African Americans.