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1.  Clinical Perspectives on Lupus Genetics: Advances and Opportunities 
In recent years, genome wide association studies have led to an explosion in the identification of regions containing confirmed genetic risk variants within complex human diseases, for example in systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). Many of these strongest SLE genetic associations can be divided into groups based upon their potential roles in different processes implicated in lupus pathogenesis, including ubiquitination (a process of marking proteins for degradation), DNA degradation, innate immunity, cellular immunity (B cell, T cell, neutrophil, monocytes), lymphocyte development, and antigen presentation. Recent advances have also demonstrated several genetic associations with SLE subphenotypes and subcriteria, such as autoantibody production, lupus nephritis, serositis, and arthritis. Despite the broad range of lupus genetic studies to date, many areas for further exploration remain to move lupus genetic studies toward clinically informative endpoints, such as identifying individuals at the greatest risk of end-organ damage, early mortality or poor response to a specific therapeutic regimen.
PMCID: PMC4104419  PMID: 25034154
SLE; lupus; genetics; clinical subphenotypes; GWAS; nephritis; autoantibodies
2.  Pro-Inflammatory Adaptive Cytokines and Shed Tumor Necrosis Factor Receptors are Elevated Preceding Systemic Lupus Erythematosus Disease Flare 
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a multifaceted disease characterized by immune dysregulation and unpredictable disease activity. This study evaluated changes in plasma concentrations of soluble mediators preceding clinically-defined disease flares.
Soluble mediators (n=52) were examined, including cytokines, chemokines, and soluble receptors, using validated multiplex bead-based or enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays in plasma from European American SLE patients who developed disease flare 6 or 12 weeks after baseline assessment were compared to 28 matched SLE patients without impending flare and 28 matched healthy controls (n=84). For a subset, mediators within samples preceding SLE disease flare and during a clinically stable period from the same individual were compared.
Compared to clinically stable patients, patients with impending flare had significant (p≤0.01) alterations in 27 soluble mediators at baseline with significantly higher levels of pro-inflammatory mediators, including Th1, Th2, and Th17-type cytokines, several weeks before clinical flare. Baseline levels of regulatory cytokines, including IL-10 and TGF-β, were higher in non-flare SLE patients, while baseline levels of soluble TNFRI, TNFRII, Fas, FasL, and CD40L were significantly greater in pre-flare patients (p≤0.002). A normalized and weighted combined soluble mediator score was significantly higher in pre-flare SLE patients versus those with stable disease (p≤0.0002).
Pro-inflammatory adaptive cytokines and shed TNF receptors, are elevated prior to disease flare, while regulatory mediators are elevated during periods of stable disease. Alterations in the balance between inflammatory and regulatory mediators may help identify patients at risk of disease flare and help decipher SLE pathogenic mechanisms.
PMCID: PMC4128244  PMID: 24578190
SLE; disease flare; cytokines
3.  High Affinity Antibodies against Influenza Characterize the Plasmablast Response in SLE Patients After Vaccination 
PLoS ONE  2015;10(5):e0125618.
Breakdown of B cell tolerance is a cardinal feature of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). Increased numbers of autoreactive mature naïve B cells have been described in SLE patients and autoantibodies have been shown to arise from autoreactive and non-autoreactive precursors. How these defects, in the regulation of B cell tolerance and selection, influence germinal center (GC) reactions that are directed towards foreign antigens has yet to be investigated. Here, we examined the characteristics of post-GC foreign antigen-specific B cells from SLE patients and healthy controls by analyzing monoclonal antibodies generated from plasmablasts induced specifically by influenza vaccination. We report that many of the SLE patients had anti-influenza antibodies with higher binding affinity and neutralization capacity than those from controls. Although overall frequencies of autoreactivity in the influenza-specific plasmablasts were similar for SLE patients and controls, the variable gene repertoire of influenza-specific plasmablasts from SLE patients was altered, with increased usage of JH6 and long heavy chain CDR3 segments. We found that high affinity anti-influenza antibodies generally characterize the plasmablast responses of SLE patients with low levels of autoreactivity; however, certain exceptions were noted. The high-avidity antibody responses in SLE patients may also be correlated with cytokines that are abnormally expressed in lupus. These findings provide insights into the effects of dysregulated immunity on the quality of antibody responses following influenza vaccination and further our understanding of the underlying abnormalities of lupus.
PMCID: PMC4423960  PMID: 25951191
4.  Smoking is not associated with autoantibody production in systemic lupus erythematosus patients, unaffected first-degree relatives, nor healthy controls 
Lupus  2014;23(4):360-369.
To examine whether smoking is associated with autoantibody production in systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) patients, unaffected first-degree relatives (FDR) of individuals with SLE - a group at increased risk of developing SLE, or unaffected, unrelated controls.
Detailed demographic, environmental, clinical, and therapeutic information was collected by questionnaire on 1,242 SLE patients, 981 FDRs, and 946 controls in the Lupus Family Registry and Repository; a blood sample was obtained. All sera were tested for multiple lupus autoantibodies by immunofluorescence and luminex bead-based assays. Generalized estimating equations, adjusting for age, gender, and ethnicity and accounting for correlation within families, were used to assess smoking status with the dichotomous outcome variables of positivity for SLE status, positivity of ANA by immunofluorescence (≥ 1:120), positivity for ≥ 1 autoantibody by the luminex assay, and positivity for each of the 11 autoantibodies.
Current smoking was associated with being positive for ≥ 1 autoantibody (excluding ANA) (adjusted OR=1.53, 95% CI 1.04–2.24) in our subjects with SLE. No association was observed in unaffected FDRs or healthy controls. Former smoking was associated with anti-Ro/SS-A60 in our unaffected FDRs. There was an increased association with anti-nRNP A seropositivity, as well as a decreased association with anti-nRNP 68 positivity, in current smokers in SLE subjects.
No clear association between smoking status and individual autoantibodies was detected in SLE patients, unaffected FDRs, nor healthy controls within this collection. The association of smoking with SLE may therefore manifest its risk through mechanisms outside of autoantibody production, at least for the specificities tested.
PMCID: PMC3954895  PMID: 24449338
Smoking; autoantibodies; systemic lupus erythematosus
5.  Allelic heterogeneity in NCF2 associated with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) susceptibility across four ethnic populations 
Human Molecular Genetics  2013;23(6):1656-1668.
Recent reports have associated NCF2, encoding a core component of the multi-protein NADPH oxidase (NADPHO), with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) susceptibility in individuals of European ancestry. To identify ethnicity-specific and -robust variants within NCF2, we assessed 145 SNPs in and around the NCF2 gene in 5325 cases and 21 866 controls of European-American (EA), African-American (AA), Hispanic (HS) and Korean (KR) ancestry. Subsequent imputation, conditional, haplotype and bioinformatic analyses identified seven potentially functional SLE-predisposing variants. Association with non-synonymous rs17849502, previously reported in EA, was detected in EA, HS and AA (PEA = 1.01 × 10−54, PHS = 3.68 × 10−10, PAA = 0.03); synonymous rs17849501 was similarly significant. These SNPs were monomorphic in KR. Novel associations were detected with coding variants at rs35937854 in AA (PAA = 1.49 × 10−9), and rs13306575 in HS and KR (PHS = 7.04 × 10−7, PKR = 3.30 × 10−3). In KR, a 3-SNP haplotype was significantly associated (P = 4.20 × 10−7), implying that SLE predisposing variants were tagged. Significant SNP–SNP interaction (P = 0.02) was detected between rs13306575 and rs17849502 in HS, and a dramatically increased risk (OR = 6.55) with a risk allele at each locus. Molecular modeling predicts that these non-synonymous mutations could disrupt NADPHO complex assembly. The risk allele of rs17849501, located in a conserved transcriptional regulatory region, increased reporter gene activity, suggesting in vivo enhancer function. Our results not only establish allelic heterogeneity within NCF2 associated with SLE, but also emphasize the utility of multi-ethnic cohorts to identify predisposing variants explaining additional phenotypic variance (‘missing heritability’) of complex diseases like SLE.
PMCID: PMC3929085  PMID: 24163247
6.  Ribosomal and Immune Transcripts Associate with Relapse in Acquired ADAMTS13-Deficient Thrombotic Thrombocytopenic Purpura 
PLoS ONE  2015;10(2):e0117614.
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.
PMCID: PMC4324966  PMID: 25671313
7.  Lupus risk variants in the PXK locus alter B-cell receptor internalization 
Frontiers in Genetics  2015;5:450.
Genome wide association studies have identified variants in PXK that confer risk for humoral autoimmune diseases, including systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE or lupus), rheumatoid arthritis and more recently systemic sclerosis. While PXK is involved in trafficking of epidermal growth factor Receptor (EGFR) in COS-7 cells, mechanisms linking PXK to lupus pathophysiology have remained undefined. In an effort to uncover the mechanism at this locus that increases lupus-risk, we undertook a fine-mapping analysis in a large multi-ancestral study of lupus patients and controls. We define a large (257kb) common haplotype marking a single causal variant that confers lupus risk detected only in European ancestral populations and spans the promoter through the 3′ UTR of PXK. The strongest association was found at rs6445972 with P < 4.62 × 10−10, OR 0.81 (0.75–0.86). Using stepwise logistic regression analysis, we demonstrate that one signal drives the genetic association in the region. Bayesian analysis confirms our results, identifying a 95% credible set consisting of 172 variants spanning 202 kb. Functionally, we found that PXK operates on the B-cell antigen receptor (BCR); we confirmed that PXK influenced the rate of BCR internalization. Furthermore, we demonstrate that individuals carrying the risk haplotype exhibited a decreased rate of BCR internalization, a process known to impact B cell survival and cell fate. Taken together, these data define a new candidate mechanism for the genetic association of variants around PXK with lupus risk and highlight the regulation of intracellular trafficking as a genetically regulated pathway mediating human autoimmunity.
PMCID: PMC4288052  PMID: 25620976
lupus; PXK; fine-mapping; B cells; BCR
8.  Prolidase deficiency breaks tolerance to lupus-associated antigens 
Prolidase deficiency is a rare autosomal recessive disease in which one of the last steps of collagen metabolism, cleavage of proline-containing dipeptides, is impaired. Only about 93 patients have been reported with about 10% also having systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE).
We studied a large extended Amish pedigree with four prolidase deficiency patients and three heterozygous individuals for lupus-associated autoimmunity. Eight unaffected Amish children served as normal controls. Prolidase genetics and enzyme activity were confirmed. Antinuclear antibodies (ANA) were determined using indirect immunofluorescence and antibodies against extractable nuclear antigens were determined by various methods, including double immunodiffusion, immunoprecipitation and multiplex bead assay. Serum C1q levels were determined by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay.
Two of the four homozygous prolidase deficiency subjects had a positive ANA. One had anti-double-stranded DNA, while another had precipitating anti-Ro. By the simultaneous microbead assay, three of the four had anti-Sm and anti-chromatin. One of the three heterozygous subjects had a positive ANA and immunoprecipitation of a 75 000 molecular weight protein. The unaffected controls had normal prolidase activity and were negative for autoantibodies.
Prolidase deficiency may be associated with the loss of immune tolerance to lupus-associated autoantigens even without clinical SLE.
PMCID: PMC4030668  PMID: 24330273
prolidase deficiency; systemic lupus erythematosus; autoantibodies
9.  Herpes Zoster Vaccination in SLE: A pilot study of Immunogenicity 
The Journal of rheumatology  2013;40(11):10.3899/jrheum.130170.
Patients with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) are at increased risk of herpes zoster (HZ). Although a vaccine for HZ has been FDA approved, its use in immunocompromised individuals remains controversial because it is a live-attenuated virus vaccine. We performed a pilot study of the immunogenicity of Zostavax® in SLE patients.
Ten SLE patients and 10 controls ≥50 years old participated in this open label vaccination study. All were seropositive for varicella zoster virus (VZV). SLE patients were excluded for SLEDAI>4, use of mycophenolatemofetil, cyclophosphamide, biologics, or >10 mg prednisone daily. Follow-up visits occurred at 2, 6, and 12 weeks. Clinical outcomes included the development of adverse events, particularly HZ or vesicular lesions, and SLE flare. Immunogenicity was assessed with VZV-specific IFN-γ producing ELISPOT assays and with antibody concentrations.
All subjects were women. SLE patients were slightly older than controls (60.5 vs. 55.3 years, p<0.05) Median baseline SLEDAI was 0 (range 0–2) for SLE patients. No episodes of HZ, vesicular rash, serious adverse events, or SLE flares occurred. Three injection site reactions occurred in each group: mild erythema or tenderness. The proportion of subjects with a >50% increase in ELISPOT results following vaccination was comparable between both groups, although absolute SLE responses were lower than controls. Antibody titers increased only among controls following vaccination (p<0.05).
Zostavax vaccination yielded a measurable immuneresponse in this cohort of mild SLE patients on mild-moderate immunosuppressive medications. No herpetiform lesions or lupus flares were seen in this small cohort of patients.
PMCID: PMC3867792  PMID: 24037550
Systemic lupus erythematosus; herpes zoster; vaccine; Zostavax; infection; clinical trial
10.  Protective Antigen-Specific Memory B Cells Persist Years after Anthrax Vaccination and Correlate with Humoral Immunity 
Toxins  2014;6(8):2424-2431.
Anthrax Vaccine Adsorbed (AVA) generates short-lived protective antigen (PA) specific IgG that correlates with in vitro toxin neutralization and protection from Bacillus anthracis challenge. Animal studies suggest that when PA-specific IgG has waned, survival after spore challenge correlates with an activation of PA-specific memory B cells. Here, we characterize the quantity and the longevity of AVA-induced memory B cell responses in humans. Peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) from individuals vaccinated ≥3 times with AVA (n = 50) were collected early (3–6 months, n = 27) or late after their last vaccination (2–5 years, n = 23), pan-stimulated, and assayed by ELISPOT for total and PA-specific memory B cells differentiated into antibody secreting cells (ASCs). PA-specific ASC percentages ranged from 0.02% to 6.25% (median: 1.57%) and did not differ between early and late post-vaccination individuals. PA-specific ASC percentages correlated with plasma PA-specific IgG (r = 0.42, p = 0.03) and toxin neutralization (r = 0.52, p = 0.003) early post vaccination. PA-specific ASC percentages correlated with supernatant anti-PA both early (r = 0.60, p = 0.001) and late post vaccination (r = 0.71, p < 0.0001). These data suggest PA-specific memory B cell responses are long-lived and can be estimated after recent vaccination by the magnitude and neutralization capacity of the humoral response.
PMCID: PMC4147590  PMID: 25123559
Anthrax Vaccine Adsorbed; cellular immunity; lethal toxin neutralization; protective antigen
11.  The sepsis model: An emerging hypothesis for the lethality of inhalation anthrax 
Inhalation anthrax is often described as a toxin-mediated disease. However, the toxemia model does not account for the high mortality of inhalation anthrax relative to other forms of the disease or for the pathology present in inhalation anthrax. Patients with inhalation anthrax consistently show extreme bacteremia and, in contrast to animals challenged with toxin, signs of sepsis. Rather than toxemia, we propose that death in inhalation anthrax results from an overwhelming bacteremia that leads to severe sepsis. According to our model, the central role of anthrax toxin is to permit the vegetative bacteria to escape immune detection. Other forms of B. anthracis infection have lower mortality because their overt symptoms early in the course of disease cause patients to seek medical care at a time when the infection and its sequelae can still be reversed by antibiotics. Thus, the sepsis model explains key features of inhalation anthrax and may offer a more complete understanding of disease pathology for researchers as well as those involved in the care of patients.
PMCID: PMC3729634  PMID: 23742651
Sepsis; anthrax; lethal factor; edema factor; disseminated intravascular coagulation; Gram-positive
12.  Variants at multiple loci implicated in both innate and adaptive immune responses are associated with Sjögren’s syndrome 
Nature genetics  2013;45(11):10.1038/ng.2792.
Sjögren’s syndrome is a common autoimmune disease (~0.7% of European Americans) typically presenting as keratoconjunctivitis sicca and xerostomia. In addition to strong association within the HLA region at 6p21 (Pmeta=7.65×10−114), we establish associations with IRF5-TNPO3 (Pmeta=2.73×10−19), STAT4 (Pmeta=6.80×10−15), IL12A (Pmeta =1.17×10−10), FAM167A-BLK (Pmeta=4.97×10−10), DDX6-CXCR5 (Pmeta=1.10×10−8), and TNIP1 (Pmeta=3.30×10−8). Suggestive associations with Pmeta<5×10−5 were observed with 29 regions including TNFAIP3, PTTG1, PRDM1, DGKQ, FCGR2A, IRAK1BP1, ITSN2, and PHIP amongst others. These results highlight the importance of genes involved in both innate and adaptive immunity in Sjögren’s syndrome.
PMCID: PMC3867192  PMID: 24097067
13.  Fully Human Monoclonal Antibodies from Antibody Secreting Cells after Vaccination with Pneumovax®23 are Serotype Specific and Facilitate Opsonophagocytosis 
Immunobiology  2012;218(5):745-754.
B lymphocyte memory generates antibody-secreting cells (ASCs) that represent a source of protective antibodies that may be exploited for therapeutics. Here we vaccinated four donors with Pneumovax23 and produced human monoclonal antibodies (hmAbs) from ASCs. We have cloned 137 hmAbs and the specificities of these antibodies encompass 19 of the 23 serotypes in the vaccine, as well as cell wall polysaccharide (CWPS). Although the majority of the antibodies are serotype specific, 12% cross-react with two serotypes. The Pneumovax23 ASC antibody sequences are highly mutated and clonal, indicating an anamnestic response, even though this was a primary vaccination. Hmabs from 64% of the clonal families facilitate opsonophagocytosis. Although 9% of the total antibodies bind to CWPS impurity in the vaccine, none of these clonal families showed opsonophagocytic activity. Overall, these studies have allowed us to address unanswered questions in the field of human immune responses to polysaccharide vaccines, including the cross-reactivity of individual antibodies between serotypes and the percentage of antibodies that are protective after vaccination with Pneumovax23.
PMCID: PMC3556204  PMID: 23084371
Antibody secreting cells; B cell memory; human monoclonal antibodies; Pneumovax; Streptococcus pneumoniae
14.  End-Stage Renal Disease in African Americans With Lupus Nephritis Is Associated With APOL1 
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.
PMCID: PMC4002759  PMID: 24504811
15.  Vitamin D Deficiency in a Multiethnic Healthy Control Cohort and Altered Immune Response in Vitamin D Deficient European-American Healthy Controls 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(4):e94500.
In recent years, vitamin D has been shown to possess a wide range of immunomodulatory effects. Although there is extensive amount of research on vitamin D, we lack a comprehensive understanding of the prevalence of vitamin D deficiency or the mechanism by which vitamin D regulates the human immune system. This study examined the prevalence and correlates of vitamin D deficiency and the relationship between vitamin D and the immune system in healthy individuals.
Healthy individuals (n = 774) comprised of European-Americans (EA, n = 470), African–Americans (AA, n = 125), and Native Americans (NA, n = 179) were screened for 25-hydroxyvitamin D [25(OH)D] levels by ELISA. To identify the most noticeable effects of vitamin D on the immune system, 20 EA individuals with severely deficient (<11.3 ng/mL) and sufficient (>24.8 ng/mL) vitamin D levels were matched and selected for further analysis. Serum cytokine level measurement, immune cell phenotyping, and phosphoflow cytometry were performed.
Vitamin D sufficiency was observed in 37.5% of the study cohort. By multivariate analysis, AA, NA, and females with a high body mass index (BMI, >30) demonstrate higher rates of vitamin D deficiency (p<0.05). Individuals with vitamin D deficiency had significantly higher levels of serum GM-CSF (p = 0.04), decreased circulating activated CD4+ (p = 0.04) and CD8+ T (p = 0.04) cell frequencies than individuals with sufficient vitamin D levels.
A large portion of healthy individuals have vitamin D deficiency. These individuals have altered T and B cell responses, indicating that the absence of sufficient vitamin D levels could result in undesirable cellular and molecular alterations ultimately contributing to immune dysregulation.
PMCID: PMC3984168  PMID: 24727903
16.  Stochastic humoral immunity to Bacillus anthracis Protective Antigen: Identification of anti-peptide IgG correlating with seroconversion to Lethal Toxin neutralization 
Vaccine  2013;31(14):1856-1863.
A substantial fraction of individuals vaccinated against anthrax have low to immeasurable levels of serum Lethal Toxin (LeTx)-neutralizing activity. The only known correlate of protection against Bacillus anthracis in the currently licensed vaccine is magnitude of the IgG response to Protective Antigen (PA); however, some individuals producing high serum levels of anti-PA IgG fail to neutralize LeTx in vitro. This suggests that non-protective humoral responses to PA may be immunodominant in some individuals. Therefore, to better understand why anthrax vaccination elicits heterogeneous levels of protection, this study was designed to elucidate the relationship between anti-PA fine specificity and LeTx neutralization in response to PA vaccination. Inbred mice immunized with recombinant PA produced high levels of anti-PA IgG and neutralized LeTx in vitro and in vivo. Decapeptide binding studies using pooled sera reproducibly identified the same 9 epitopes. Unexpectedly, sera from individual mice revealed substantial heterogeneity in the anti-PA IgG and LeTx neutralization responses, despite relative genetic homogeneity, shared environment and exposure to the same immunogen. This heterogeneity permitted the identification of specificities that correlate with LeTx-neutralizing activity. IgG binding to six decapeptides comprising two PA epitopes, located in domains I and IV, significantly correlate with seroconversion to LeTx neutralization. These results indicate that stochastic variation in humoral immunity is likely to be a major contributor to the general problem of heterogeneity in vaccine responsiveness and suggest that vaccine effectiveness could be improved by approaches that focus the humoral response toward protective epitopes in a greater fraction of vaccinees.
PMCID: PMC3614092  PMID: 23415781
Bacillus anthracis; Protective antigen; Vaccine; B cell epitope; Mice
17.  Which outcome measures in SLE clinical trials best reflect medical judgment? 
Lupus Science & Medicine  2014;1(1):e000005.
To compare two measures of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) response: the British Isles Lupus Assessment Group (BILAG)-based Composite Lupus Assessment (BICLA) and the Systemic Lupus Responder Index (SRI) against a clinician's assessment of improvement.
Ninety-one lupus patients were identified with two visits at which Systemic Lupus Erythematosus Disease Activity Index (SLEDAI) and BILAG had been scored and with active disease (SLEDAI≥6) at the first visit. A physician rated the disease activity at the second visit as clinically significant improvement, no change or worsening. SRI and BICLA were scored both with and without the medication criteria often used in trials to restrict response definitions.
68 patients were considered improved, 17 same and 6 worse at follow-up. SRI versus BICLA, performed without considering medication changes, captured physician-rated improvement with 85% vs 76% sensitivity and 74% vs 78% specificity. With medication limits both instruments had 37% sensitivity and 96% specificity for physician-assessed improvement. Seven patients considered improved by the clinician met the BICLA but not the SRI definition of improvement by failing to achieve a four-point improvement in SLEDAI. 13 clinician-rated responders met SRI but not BICLA by improving in less than all organs.
Shortfalls of SRI and BICLA may be due to BICLA only requiring partial improvement but in all organs versus SRI requiring full improvement in some manifestation(s) and not all organs. SRI and BICLA with medication restrictions are less likely to denote response when the physician disagrees and could provide stringent proof of efficacy in appropriately powered clinical trials.
PMCID: PMC4225744  PMID: 25396057
Systemic Lupus Erythematosus; Outcomes research; Disease Activity; Treatment; Autoimmunity
18.  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
19.  Dense genotyping of immune-related disease regions identifies 14 new susceptibility loci for juvenile idiopathic arthritis 
Nature genetics  2013;45(6):664-669.
Analysis of the ImmunoChip single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) array in 2816 individuals, comprising the most common subtypes (oligoarticular and RF negative polyarticular) of juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA) and 13056 controls strengthens the evidence for association to three known JIA-risk loci (HLA, PTPN22 and PTPN2) and has identified fourteen risk loci reaching genome-wide significance (p < 5 × 10-8) for the first time. Eleven additional novel regions showed suggestive evidence for association with JIA (p < 1 × 10-6). Dense-mapping of loci along with bioinformatic analysis has refined the association to one gene for eight regions, highlighting crucial pathways, including the IL-2 pathway, in JIA disease pathogenesis. The entire ImmunoChip loci, HLA region and the top 27 loci (p < 1 × 10-6) explain an estimated 18%, 13% and 6% risk of JIA, respectively. Analysis of the ImmunoChip dataset, the largest cohort of JIA cases investigated to date, provides new insight in understanding the genetic basis for this childhood autoimmune disease.
PMCID: PMC3673707  PMID: 23603761
20.  Two Independent Functional Risk Haplotypes in TNIP1 are Associated with Systemic Lupus Erythematosus 
Arthritis and rheumatism  2012;64(11):3695-3705.
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is an autoimmune disease characterized by autoantibody production and altered type I interferon expression. Genetic surveys and genome-wide association studies have identified more than 30 SLE susceptibility genes. One of these genes, TNIP1, encodes the ABIN1 protein. ABIN1 functions in the immune system by restricting the NF-κB signaling. In order to better understand the genetic factors that influence association with SLE in genes that regulate the NF-κB pathway, we analyzed a dense set of genetic markers spanning TNIP1 and TAX1BP1, as well as the TNIP1 homolog, TNIP2, in case-control sets of diverse ethnic origins.
We fine-mapped TNIP1, TNIP2, and TAX1BP1 in a total of 8372 SLE cases and 7492 healthy controls from European-ancestry, African-American, Hispanic, East Asian, and African-American Gullah populations. Levels of TNIP1 mRNA and ABIN1 protein were analyzed using quantitative RT-PCR and Western blotting, respectively, in EBV-transformed human B cell lines.
We found significant associations between genetic variants within TNIP1 and SLE but not in TNIP2 or TAX1BP1. After resequencing and imputation, we identified two independent risk haplotypes within TNIP1 in individuals of European-ancestry that were also present in African-American and Hispanic populations. These risk haplotypes produced lower levels of TNIP1 mRNA and ABIN1 protein suggesting they harbor hypomorphic functional variants that influence susceptibility to SLE by restricting ABIN1 expression.
Our results confirmed the association signals between SLE and TNIP1 variants in multiple populations and provide new insight into the mechanism by which TNIP1 variants may contribute to SLE pathogenesis.
PMCID: PMC3485412  PMID: 22833143
21.  Impact of Genetic Ancestry and Socio-Demographic Status on the Clinical Expression of Systemic Lupus Erythematosus in Amerindian-European Populations 
Arthritis and rheumatism  2012;64(11):3687-3694.
Amerindian-Europeans, Asians and African-Americans have an excess morbidity from SLE and higher prevalence of lupus nephritis than Caucasians. The aim of this study was to analyze the relationship between genetic ancestry and socio-demographic characteristics and clinical features in a large cohort of Amerindian-European SLE patients.
A total of 2116 SLE patients of Amerindian-European origin and 4001 SLE patients of European descent with clinical data were used in the study. Genotyping of 253 continental ancestry informative markers was performed on the Illumina platform. The STRUCTURE and ADMIXTURE software were used to determine genetic ancestry of each individual. Correlation between ancestry and socio-demographic and clinical data were analyzed using logistic regression.
The average Amerindian genetic ancestry of 2116 SLE patients was 40.7%. There was an increased risk of having renal involvement (P<0.0001, OR= 3.50 95%CI 2.63-4.63) and an early age of onset with the presence of Amerindian genetic ancestry (P<0.0001). Amerindian ancestry protected against photosensitivity (P<0.0001, OR= 0.58 95%CI 0.44-0.76), oral ulcers (P<0.0001, OR= 0.55 95%CI 0.42-0.72), and serositis (P<0.0001, OR= 0.56 95%CI 0.41-0.75) after adjustment by age, gender and age of onset. However, gender and age of onset had stronger effects on malar rash, discoid rash, arthritis and neurological involvement than genetic ancestry.
In general, genetic Amerindian ancestry correlates with lower socio-demographic status and increases the risk for developing renal involvement and SLE at an earlier age of onset.
PMCID: PMC3485439  PMID: 22886787
22.  Comparison of autoantibody specificities between traditional and bead-based assays in a large, diverse collection of SLE patients and family members 
Arthritis and rheumatism  2012;64(11):3677-3686.
The replacement of standard immunofluorescence anti-nuclear antibody (ANA) methods with bead-based assays is a new clinical option. A large, multi-racial cohort of SLE patients, blood relatives and unaffected control individuals was evaluated for familial aggregation and subset clustering of autoantibodies by high-throughput serum screening technology and traditional methods.
Serum samples (1,540 SLE patients, 1,127 unaffected relatives, and 906 healthy, population-based controls) were analyzed for SLE autoantibodies using a bead-based assay, immunofluorescence, and immunodiffusion. Autoantibody prevalence, disease sensitivity, clustering, and association with standard immunodiffusion results were evaluated.
ANA frequency in SLE patient sera were 89%, 73%, and 67% by BioPlex 2200 and 94%, 84%, and 86% by immunofluorescence in African-American, Hispanic, and European-American patients respectively. 60kD Ro, La, Sm, nRNP A, and ribosomal P prevalence were compared across assays, with sensitivities ranging from 0.92 to 0.83 and specificities ranging from 0.90 to 0.79. Cluster autoantibody analysis showed association of three subsets: 1) 60kD Ro, 52kD Ro and La, 2) spliceosomal proteins, and 3) dsDNA, chromatin, and ribosomal P. Familial aggregation of Sm/RNP, ribosomal P, and 60kD Ro in SLE patient sibling pairs was observed (p ≤ 0.004). Simplex pedigree patients had a greater prevalence for dsDNA (p=0.0003) and chromatin (p=0.005) autoantibodies than multiplex patients.
ANA frequencies detected by a bead-based assay are lower in European-American SLE patients compared to immunofluorescence. These assays have strong positive predictive values across racial groups, provide useful information for clinical care, and provide unique insights to familial aggregation and autoantibody clustering.
PMCID: PMC3490432  PMID: 23112091
systemic lupus erythematosus; autoantibodies; ancestry
23.  Preferential Binding to Elk-1 by SLE-Associated IL10 Risk Allele Upregulates IL10 Expression 
PLoS Genetics  2013;9(10):e1003870.
Immunoregulatory cytokine interleukin-10 (IL-10) is elevated in sera from patients with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) correlating with disease activity. The established association of IL10 with SLE and other autoimmune diseases led us to fine map causal variant(s) and to explore underlying mechanisms. We assessed 19 tag SNPs, covering the IL10 gene cluster including IL19, IL20 and IL24, for association with SLE in 15,533 case and control subjects from four ancestries. The previously reported IL10 variant, rs3024505 located at 1 kb downstream of IL10, exhibited the strongest association signal and was confirmed for association with SLE in European American (EA) (P = 2.7×10−8, OR = 1.30), but not in non-EA ancestries. SNP imputation conducted in EA dataset identified three additional SLE-associated SNPs tagged by rs3024505 (rs3122605, rs3024493 and rs3024495 located at 9.2 kb upstream, intron 3 and 4 of IL10, respectively), and SLE-risk alleles of these SNPs were dose-dependently associated with elevated levels of IL10 mRNA in PBMCs and circulating IL-10 protein in SLE patients and controls. Using nuclear extracts of peripheral blood cells from SLE patients for electrophoretic mobility shift assays, we identified specific binding of transcription factor Elk-1 to oligodeoxynucleotides containing the risk (G) allele of rs3122605, suggesting rs3122605 as the most likely causal variant regulating IL10 expression. Elk-1 is known to be activated by phosphorylation and nuclear localization to induce transcription. Of interest, phosphorylated Elk-1 (p-Elk-1) detected only in nuclear extracts of SLE PBMCs appeared to increase with disease activity. Co-expression levels of p-Elk-1 and IL-10 were elevated in SLE T, B cells and monocytes, associated with increased disease activity in SLE B cells, and were best downregulated by ERK inhibitor. Taken together, our data suggest that preferential binding of activated Elk-1 to the IL10 rs3122605-G allele upregulates IL10 expression and confers increased risk for SLE in European Americans.
Author Summary
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), a debilitating autoimmune disease characterized by the production of pathogenic autoantibodies, has a strong genetic basis. Variants of the IL10 gene, which encodes cytokine interleukin-10 (IL-10) with known function of promoting B cell hyperactivity and autoantibody production, are associated with SLE and other autoimmune diseases, and serum IL-10 levels are elevated in SLE patients correlating with increased disease activity. In this study, to discover SLE-predisposing causal variant(s), we assessed variants within the genomic region containing IL10 and its gene family member IL19, IL20 and IL24 for association with SLE in case and control subjects from diverse ancestries. We identified SLE-associated SNP rs3122605 located at 9.2 kb upstream of IL10 as the most likely causal variant in subjects of European ancestry. The SLE-risk allele of rs3122605 was dose-dependently associated with elevated IL10 expression at both mRNA and protein levels in peripheral blood samples from SLE patients and controls, which could be explained, at least in part, by its preferential binding to Elk-1, a transcription factor activated in B cells during active disease of SLE patients. Elk-1-mediated IL-10 overexpression could be downregulated by inhibiting activation of mitogen-activated protein kinases, suggesting a potential therapeutic target for SLE.
PMCID: PMC3794920  PMID: 24130510
24.  Rheumatic Disease among Oklahoma Tribal Populations: A Cross-Sectional Study 
The Journal of rheumatology  2012;39(10):1934-1941.
Rheumatic diseases cause significant morbidity within American Indian populations. Clinical disease presentations, as well as historically associated autoantibodies, are not always useful in making a rapid diagnosis or assessing prognosis. The purpose of this study is to identify autoantibody associations among Oklahoma tribal populations with rheumatic disease.
Oklahoma tribal members (110 rheumatic disease patients and 110 controls) were enrolled at tribal-based clinics. Rheumatic disease patients (suspected or confirmed diagnosis) were assessed by a rheumatologist for clinical features, disease criteria, and activity measures. Blood samples were collected and tested for common rheumatic disease autoantibodies (ANA, anti-CCP, anti-RF, anti-Ro, anti-La, anti-Sm, anti-nRNP, anti-Ribosomal P, anti-dsDNA, and anti-cardiolipins).
In patients with suspected systemic rheumatic diseases, 72% satisfied ACR classification: 40 (36%) rheumatoid arthritis, 16 (15%) systemic lupus erythematosus, 8 (7%) scleroderma, 8 (7%) osteoarthritis, 4 (4%) fibromyalgia, 2 (2%) seronegative spondyloarthropathy, 1 Sjogrens syndrome, and 1 sarcoidosis. When compared to controls, RA patient sera were more likely to contain anti-CCP (55% vs 2%, p<0.001) or anti-RF IgM antibodies (57% vs 10%, p<0.001); however, the difference was greater for anti-CCP. Anti-CCP positivity conferred higher disease activity scores (DAS28 5.6 vs 4.45, p=0.021) while anti-RF positivity did not (DAS28 5.36 vs 4.64, p=0.15). Anticardiolipin antibodies (25% or rheumatic disease paitents vs 10% of contros,; p=0.0022) and ANA (63% vs 21%, p<0.0001) were more common in rheumatic disease patients.
Anti-CCP may serve as a better RA biomarker in AI patients, while the clinical significance of increased frequency of aCLs needs further evaluation.
PMCID: PMC3468952  PMID: 22896022
Autoimmune diseases; autoantibodies; American Indian; rheumatic disease
25.  Familial Aggregation of High Tumor Necrosis Factor Alpha Levels in 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.
PMCID: PMC3800640  PMID: 24187561

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