Non-Europeans Have Increased Genetic Risk of Lupus, Explaining Higher Disease Rates

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by Magdalena Kegel |

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Lupus risk genes in non-Europeans

Non-Europeans more often carry genes increasing the likelihood of developing systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), explaining the higher disease rates observed in people outside of Europe, according to a report by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Biomedical Research Centre at Guy’s and St Thomas’ and King’s College London.

The study, Genome-wide association meta-analysis in Chinese and European individuals identifies ten new loci associated with systemic lupus erythematosus, published in the journal Nature Genetics, could spur the development of tests for predicting lupus risk, and possibly allow a more personalized approach to treat this autoinflammatory condition, an idea shared by the study’s senior author, Dr. Timothy Vyse.

“Lupus is a very poorly understood condition,” said Vyse, an expert in genetics and molecular medicine at King’s College London and an honorary consultant rheumatologist at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust.

“The confirmation that the condition’s increased prevalence in non-Europeans has a genetic basis is an important step toward developing better predictive and diagnostic tools and may eventually help us to develop personalized treatments, too.”

The study that came to these conclusions was ambitious — it gathered genetic data from 22,670 Europeans, 13,174 Chinese, as well as data from South Asian, east Asian and African people recorded in a genome database.

Researchers performed what is known as a genome-wide association study, or GWAS, exploring the presence of small mutations in a person’s entire genome. This approach allows researchers to find genes linked to a disease without being contained by a pre-set hypothesis.

Analyses confirmed previously found risk genes, and identified 10 genes researchers have not previously explored in the context of lupus. In addition, researchers found that risk genes were more common in non-European people, including those of Asian descent.

“Identifying more lupus-related risk alleles gives us a clearer picture of the genetic triggers. It’s possible that we may never identify all of these triggers, but we are moving closer to a threshold that when crossed will help us to more effectively predict and treat this debilitating and poorly understood condition.”

While the study confirms that there is a large hereditary component to lupus risk, the authors underscore that environmental influences also need to be taken into account to advance our understanding of how, and why, lupus develops in the first place.