Genetics of SLE: mechanistic insights from monogenic disease and disease-associated variants


The past few years have provided important insights into the genetic architecture of systemic autoimmunity through aggregation of findings from genome-wide association studies (GWAS) and whole-exome or whole-genome sequencing studies. In the prototypic systemic autoimmune disease systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), monogenic disease accounts for a small fraction of cases but has been instrumental in the elucidation of disease mechanisms. Defects in the clearance or digestion of extracellular or intracellular DNA or RNA lead to increased sensing of nucleic acids, which can break B cell tolerance and induce the production of type I interferons leading to tissue damage. Current data suggest that multiple GWAS SLE risk alleles act in concert with rare functional variants to promote SLE development. Moreover, introduction of orthologous variant alleles into mice has revealed that pathogenic X-linked dominant and recessive SLE can be caused by novel variants in TLR7 and SAT1, respectively. Such bespoke models of disease help to unravel pathogenic pathways and can be used to test targeted therapies. Cell type-specific expression data revealed that most GWAS SLE risk genes are highly expressed in age-associated B cells (ABCs), which supports the view that ABCs produce lupus autoantibodies and contribute to end-organ damage by persisting in inflamed tissues, including the kidneys. ABCs have thus emerged as key targets of promising precision therapeutics.

Journal details

Volume 19
Issue number 9
Pages 558-572
Available online
Publication date