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Genetics of connective tissue diseases 

Genetics of connective tissue diseases
Genetics of connective tissue diseases
Oxford Textbook of Rheumatology (4 ed.)

Myles Lewis

and Tim Vyse

Previous versions of this chapter are available. To view earlier versions of this chapter view the full site here.

The advent of genome-wide association studies (GWAS) has been an exciting breakthrough in our understanding of the genetic aetiology of autoimmune diseases. Substantial overlap has been found in susceptibility genes across multiple diseases, from connective tissue diseases and rheumatoid arthritis (RA) to inflammatory bowel disease, coeliac disease, and psoriasis. Major technological advances now permit genotyping of millions of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). Group analysis of SNPs by haplotypes, aided by completion of the Hapmap project, has improved our ability to pinpoint causal genetic variants. International collaboration to pool large-scale cohorts of patients has enabled GWAS in systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), systemic sclerosis and Behçet’s disease, with studies in progress for ANCA-associated vasculitis. These ’hypothesis-free’ studies have revealed many novel disease-associated genes. In both SLE and systemic sclerosis, identified genes map to known pathways including antigen presentation (MHC, TNFSF4), autoreactivity of B and T lymphocytes (BLK, BANK1), type I interferon production (STAT4, IRF5) and the NFκ‎B pathway (TNIP1). In SLE alone, additional genes appear to be involved in dysregulated apoptotic cell clearance (ITGAM, TREX1, C1q, C4) and recognition of immune complexes (FCGR2A, FCGR3B). Future developments include whole-genome sequencing to identify rare variants, and efforts to understand functional consequences of susceptibility genes. Putative environmental triggers for connective tissue diseases include infectious agents, especially Epstein-Barr virus; cigarette smoking; occupational exposure to toxins including silica; and low vitamin D, due to its immunomodulatory effects. Despite numerous studies looking at toxin exposure and connective tissue diseases, conclusive evidence is lacking, due to either rarity of exposure or rarity of disease.

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