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Expression levels of HLA-DRB and HLA-DQ are associated with MHC Class II haplotypes in healthy individuals and rheumatoid arthritis patients

By Miranda Houtman, Anna Dzebisashvili, Espen Hesselberg, Anatoly Dubnovitsky, Genadiy Kozhukh, Lars Rönnblom, Lars Klareskog, Vivianne Malmstrom, Leonid Padyukov

Posted 06 Jan 2021
medRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2021.01.06.20249032

HLA-DRB1 alleles have been associated with several autoimmune diseases. In anti-citrullinated protein antibody positive rheumatoid arthritis (ACPA-positive RA), HLA-DRB1 shared epitope (SE) alleles are the major genetic risk factors. In order to investigate whether expression of different alleles of major histocompatibility complex (MHC) Class II genes influence functions of immune cells, we investigated transcriptomic profiles of a variety of immune cells from healthy individuals carrying different HLA-DRB1 alleles. Sequencing libraries from peripheral blood mononuclear cells, CD4+ T cells, CD8+ T cells, and CD14+ monocytes of 32 genetically pre-selected healthy female individuals were generated, sequenced and reads were aligned to the standard reference. For the MHC region, reads were mapped to available MHC reference haplotypes and AltHapAlignR was used to estimate gene expression. Using this method, HLA-DRB and HLA-DQ were found to be differentially expressed in different immune cells of healthy individuals as well as in whole blood samples of RA patients carrying HLA-DRB1 SE-positive versus SE-negative alleles. In contrast, no genes outside the MHC region were differentially expressed between individuals carrying HLA-DRB1 SE-positive and SE-negative alleles. Existing methods for HLA-DR allele-specific protein expression were evaluated but were not mature enough to provide appropriate complementary information at the protein level. Altogether, our findings suggest that immune effects associated with different allelic forms of HLA-DR and HLA-DQ may be associated not only with differences in the structure of these proteins, but also with differences in their expression levels.

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