Pathway uncovered for greatest lupus genetic risk factor, study shows

Aug. 17, 2022
The discovery could be a route to novel treatments for the autoimmune disease.

Researchers at Michigan Medicine have uncovered the molecular mechanism that drives the disease-causing effects of the most common genetic risk factor for lupus, a study suggests.

Systemic lupus erythematosus is a common, incurable autoimmune disease that affects millions of individuals worldwide, with a particularly high prevalence among women. A genetic variant, called HLA-DRB1*03:01, is the greatest risk factor for the condition, which involves inflammation in many vital organs, and can lead to severe disability and death.

In a study recently published in communications biology (a Nature Portfolio journal), investigators found that a protein coded by that HLA variant triggers a cascade of molecular and cellular effects that can cause the inflammatory symptoms seen in lupus patients.

The results support a novel theory how genetic variants of the kind of HLA-DRB1*03:01 can lead to autoimmune diseases independent of antigen presentation, the traditionally studied mechanism, which has been long proposed but, so far, not directly proven.

U of M Health release