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Mechanistic characterization of RASGRP1 variants identifies an hnRNP K-regulated transcriptional enhancer contributing to SLE susceptibility

By Julio E Molineros, Bhupinder Singh, Chikashi Terao, Yukinori Okada, Jakub Kaplan, Barbara McDaniel, Shuji Akizuki, Celi Sun, Carol Webb, Loren L Looger, Swapan K Nath

Posted 06 Mar 2019
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/568790 (published DOI: 10.3389/fimmu.2019.01066)

Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is an autoimmune disease with a strong genetic component. We recently identified a novel SLE susceptibility locus near RASGRP1, which governs the ERK/MAPK kinase cascade and B-/T-cell differentiation and development. However, precise causal RASGRP1 functional variant(s) and their mechanisms of action in SLE pathogenesis remain undefined. Our goal was to fine-map this locus, prioritize genetic variants according to likely functionality, experimentally validate the contribution of three SNPs to SLE risk, and experimentally determine their biochemical mechanisms of action. We performed a meta-analysis across six Asian and European cohorts (9,529 cases; 22,462 controls), followed by in silico bioinformatic and epigenetic analyses to prioritize potentially functional SNPs. We experimentally validated the functional significance and mechanism of action of three SNPs in cultured T-cells. Meta-analysis identified 18 genome-wide significant (p<5x10-8) SNPs, mostly concentrated in two haplotype blocks, one intronic and the other intergenic. Epigenetic fine-mapping, allelic, eQTL and imbalance analyses predicted three transcriptional regulatory regions with four SNPs (rs7170151, rs11631591-rs7173565, and rs9920715) prioritized for functional validation. Luciferase reporter assays indicated significant allele-specific enhancer activity for intronic rs7170151 and rs11631591-rs7173565 in T lymphoid (Jurkat) cells, but not in HEK293 cells. Following up with EMSA, mass spectrometry and ChIP-qPCR, we detected allele-dependent interactions between heterogeneous nuclear ribonucleoprotein K (hnRNP-K) and rs11631591. Furthermore, inhibition of hnRNP-K in Jurkat and T -cells downregulated RASGRP1 and ERK/MAPK signaling. Comprehensive association, bioinformatics, and epigenetic analyses yielded putative functional variants of RASGRP1. While several SNPs were experimentally validated, intronic variant (rs11631591), is located in a cell type-specific enhancer sequence, where its risk allele binds to the hnRNP-K protein and modulates RASGRP1 expression in Jurkat and human T-cells. As risk allele dosage of rs11631591 correlates with increased RASGRP1 expression and ERK activity, we suggest that this SNP may underlie SLE risk of this locus.

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