Objective: Inhibition of T cell DNA methylation causes autoreactivity in vitro and a lupus-like disease in vivo, suggesting that T cell DNA hypomethylation may contribute to autoimmunity. The hypomethylation effects are due, in part, to overexpression of lymphocyte function-associated antigen 1 (LFA-1) (CD11a/CD18). Importantly, T cells from patients with active lupus have hypomethylated DNA and overexpress LFA-1 on an autoreactive subset, suggesting that the same mechanism could contribute to human lupus. The present study investigated the nature of the methylation change that affects LFA-1 expression in vitro and in human lupus.
Methods: Bisulfite sequencing was used to determine the methylation status of the ITGAL promoter and flanking regions in T cells from lupus patients and healthy subjects, and in T cells treated with DNA methylation inhibitors. "Patch" methylation of promoter sequences in reporter constructs was used to determine the functional significance of the methylation changes.
Results: Hypomethylation of specific sequences flanking the ITGAL promoter was seen in T cells from patients with active lupus and in T cells treated with 5-azacytidine and procainamide. Patch methylation of this region suppressed ITGAL promoter function.
Conclusion: DNA methylation changes occur in specific sequences that regulate LFA-1 expression in lupus T cells and in the hypomethylation model, indicating that altered methylation of specific genes may play a role in the pathogenesis of lupus.