Objective: Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is the most common disabling autoimmune disease, affecting approximately 1% of the population. The disease etiology is unknown, but it involves inflammation and immune dysregulation and is influenced by genetic variation at both HLA and other, as-yet-unidentified genetic loci. Corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH; or corticotropin-releasing factor), a primary regulator of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and a key element in the response to stress and inflammation, is a strong candidate gene for RA. We examined the role of DNA variation across the region containing this gene in multicase families with RA.
Methods: We genotyped fluorescently labeled simple tandem repeat genetic markers from chromosome 8q13 in 295 families with multiple cases of RA. Singlepoint and multipoint nonparametric linkage analysis and association analysis using transmission disequilibrium testing (TDT) were also used.
Results: Single-point linkage analysis using a microsatellite within 30 kb of the CRH locus (CRH.PCR at position 8q13) showed a significant excess of allele sharing in 295 United Kingdom RA families with at least 2 affected members (MapMaker/Sibs logarithm of odds [LOD] 1.4; P = 5.5x10(-3); mean identity by descent [ibd] sharing 55.9%). To provide a more detailed linkage map, a multipoint analysis was conducted with an additional 7 dinucleotide microsatellite markers (average heterozygosity 0.75) flanking the CRH locus. Significant linkage was detected over a 22-cM region between D8S285 and D8S530, with the maximum singlepoint LOD score of 1.77 at D8S1723 (MapMaker/Sibs P = 2.2x10(-3); mean ibd sharing 59.3%). Multipoint analysis showed strongest evidence for linkage at the same marker (multipoint LOD 1.78, P = 2.1x10(-3), mean ibd sharing 55.8%). TDT analysis showed significant association at the CRH locus (P = 2.6x10(-3)). CRH has a sibling relative risk of 1.14, and contributes <10% to the sibling relative risk of RA.
Conclusion: With the exception of HLA, this is the strongest evidence yet of a genetic locus that is both linked to and associated with RA, and provides an avenue for further genetic characterization and potentially novel therapeutic intervention.