Background: Genes linked to the major histocompatibility complex (MHC), have been implicated in atopic asthma. Asthma is highly prevalent in the Venezuelan population (estimated at 20%) and genetic markers are needed to identify populations at risk and plan intervention strategies.
Objective: To study the influence of the MHC class I and class II genes in the susceptibility to atopic asthma.
Methods: MHC-class I HLA-A, -C, -B and MHC-class II HLA-DR, -DQ, -DP gene haplotype frequencies were determined in 135 Venezuelan mestizos, 71 belong to 20 atopic asthmatic families and 64 unrelated controls. The index cases were 20 atopic asthmatics with positive skin-prick tests and specific serum immunoglobulin E (IgE) for Dermatophagoides pteronyssinus (Der p) and Dermatophagoides farinae (Der f). To ascertain the genes associated with susceptibility to atopy and/or asthma, two control groups were studied, 41 non-atopic subjects with skin-prick negative test, and undetectable levels of specific IgE and 23 non-asthmatic atopic subjects with detectable specific IgE to Der p and Der f. A linkage analysis was performed in those families with two or more atopic siblings (with or without asthma).
Results: MHC-class I genes analysis showed that HLA-Cw7 was absent in the asthmatic patients studied, whereas the frequency of this allele was 14.3% in non-atopic controls (P = 0.0 17, PC = 0.19) and 20.8% in the atopic controls (P = 0.0066, PC = 0.07). MHC-class II gene analysis showed a significant increase of the HLA-DRB1*11 in the asthmatic patients compared with non-atopic controls (allele frequencies of 25.6 vs 4.4% P = 0.0017, PC = 0.02). There were no significant differences among asthmatic and atopic controls in the frequency of HLA-DRB1*11 (25.6 vs 17.4%). In contrast, the HLA-DRB1*1101+ haplotypes were significantly higher in asthmatics compared with atopic and non-atopic controls (19.6% vs 2.2% vs 2.3%, PC<0.05). The HLA-DRB1*1101, DQA1*0501, DQB1*0301 haplotype was found significantly increased in the patients vs non-atopic controls (15.4 vs 1.1%, PC< 0.01). The serum levels of specific IgE were detectable in both atopic asthmatics and atopic controls; however, it was higher in atopic asthmatics vs atopic controls Der p (median, 58.7 vs 2.7 kU/L, P<0.001) and Der f (median, 46.9 vs 2.7 kU/L, P<0.001). No linkage between MHC genes and mite-atopy could be documented on informative families with two or more atopic siblings.
Conclusions: We have identified an association between the haplotype HLA-DRB1*1101, DQA1*0501, DQB1*0301 and atopic asthma that confers susceptibility to develop mite-sensitive asthma to atopics (relative risk, RR 8.2), and to non-atopic controls (RR = 15.8) that carry this haplotype. Conversely, the allele HLA-Cw7 was absent in the asthmatics studied and had higher frequencies in the atopic (RR = 0.05) and non-atopic (RR = 0.08) controls. Thus, it may have a protective role for developing atopic asthma in the population studied.