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Arthritis Rheum. 2009 Jan;60(1):53-62. doi: 10.1002/art.24138.

Genetic association of the major histocompatibility complex with rheumatoid arthritis implicates two non-DRB1 loci.

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GlaxoSmithKline, Harlow, UK.



The HLA-DRB1 locus within the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) at 6p21.3 has been identified as a susceptibility gene for rheumatoid arthritis (RA); however, there is increasing evidence of additional susceptibility genes in the MHC region. The aim of this study was to estimate their number and location.


A case-control study was performed involving 977 control subjects and 855 RA patients. The HLA-DRB1 locus was genotyped together with 2,360 single-nucleotide polymorphisms in the MHC region. Logistic regression was used to detect DRB1-independent effects.


After adjusting for the effect of HLA-DRB1, 18 markers in 14 genes were strongly associated with RA (P<10(-4)). Multivariate logistic regression analysis of these markers and DRB1 led to a model containing DRB1 plus the following 3 markers: rs4678, a nonsynonymous change in the VARS2L locus, approximately 1.7 Mb telomeric of DRB1; rs2442728, upstream of HLA-B, approximately 1.2 Mb telomeric of DRB1; and rs17499655, located in the 5'-untranslated region of DQA2, only 0.1 Mb centromeric of DRB1. In-depth investigation of the DQA2 association, however, suggested that it arose through cryptic linkage disequilibrium with an allele of DRB1. Two non-shared epitope alleles were also strongly associated with RA (P<10(-4)): *0301 with anti- cyclic citrullinated peptide-negative RA and *0701 independently of autoantibody status.


These results confirm the polygenic contribution of the MHC to RA and implicate 2 additional non-DRB1 susceptibility loci. The role of the HLA-DQ locus in RA has been a subject of controversy, but in our data, it appears to be spurious.

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