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Genomic dissection of Systemic Lupus Erythematosus: Distinct Susceptibility, Activity and Severity Signatures

By Nikolaos I. Panousis, George Bertsias, Halit Ongen, Irini Gergianaki, Maria Tektonidou, Maria Trachana, Luciana Romano-Palumbo, Deborah Bielser, Cedric Howald, Cristina Pamfil, Antonis Fanouriakis, Despoina Kosmara, Argyro Repa, Prodromos Sidiropoulos, Emmanouil T Dermitzakis, Dimitrios T Boumpas

Posted 27 Jan 2018
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/255109

Recent genetic and genomics approaches have yielded novel insights in the pathogenesis of Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) but the diagnosis, monitoring and treatment still remain largely empirical. We reasoned that molecular characterization of SLE by whole blood transcriptomics may facilitate early diagnosis and personalized therapy. To this end, we analyzed genotypes and RNA-seq in 142 patients and 58 matched healthy individuals to define the global transcriptional signature of SLE. By controlling for the estimated proportions of circulating immune cell types, we show that the Interferon (IFN) and p53 pathways are robustly expressed. We also report cell-specific, disease-dependent regulation of gene expression and define a core/susceptibility and a flare/activity disease expression signature, with oxidative phosphorylation, ribosome regulation and cell cycle pathways being enriched in lupus flares. Using these data, we define a novel index of disease activity/severity by combining the validated Systemic Lupus Erythematosus Disease Activity Index (SLEDAI) with a new variable derived from principal component analysis (PCA) of RNA-seq data. We also delineate unique signatures across disease endo-phenotypes whereby active nephritis exhibits the most extensive changes in transcriptome, including prominent drugable signatures such as granulocyte and plasmablast/plasma cell activation. The substantial differences in gene expression between SLE and healthy individuals enables the classification of disease versus healthy status with median sensitivity and specificity of 83% and 100%, respectively. We explored the genetic regulation of blood transcriptome in SLE and found 3142 cis-expression quantitative trait loci (eQTLs). By integration of SLE genome-wide association study (GWAS) signals and eQTLs from 44 tissues from the Genotype-Tissue Expression (GTEx) cosortium, we demonstrate that the genetic causality of SLE arises from multiple tissues with the top causal tissue being the liver, followed by brain basal ganglia, adrenal gland and whole blood. Collectively, our study defines distinct susceptibility and activity/severity signatures in SLE that may facilitate diagnosis, monitoring, and personalized therapy.

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