Introduction: The objective of this study is to determine if multiple systemic autoimmune diseases (SAID) share gene expression pathways that could provide insights into pathogenic mechanisms common to these disorders.
Methods: RNA microarray analyses (Agilent Human 1A(V2) 20K oligo arrays) were used to quantify gene expression in peripheral blood cells from 20 monozygotic (MZ) twin pairs discordant for SAID. Six affected probands with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), six with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), eight with idiopathic inflammatory myopathies (IIM), and their same-gendered unaffected twins, were enrolled. Comparisons were made between discordant twin pairs and these were also each compared to 40 unrelated control subjects (matched 2:1 to each twin by age, gender and ethnicity) using statistical and molecular pathway analyses. Relative quantitative PCR was used to verify independently measures of differential gene expression assessed by microarray analysis.
Results: Probands and unrelated, matched controls differed significantly in gene expression for 104 probes corresponding to 92 identifiable genes (multiple-comparison adjusted P values < 0.1). Differentially expressed genes involved several overlapping pathways including immune responses (16%), signaling pathways (24%), transcription/translation regulators (26%), and metabolic functions (15%). Interferon (IFN)-response genes (IFI27, OASF, PLSCR1, EIF2AK2, TNFAIP6, and TNFSF10) were up-regulated in probands compared to unrelated controls. Many of the abnormally expressed genes played regulatory roles in multiple cellular pathways. We did not detect any probes expressed differentially in comparisons among the three SAID phenotypes. Similarly, we found no significant differences in gene expression when comparing probands to unaffected twins or unaffected twins to unrelated controls. Gene expression levels for unaffected twins appeared intermediate between that of probands and unrelated controls for 6535 probes (32% of the total probes) as would be expected by chance. By contrast, in unaffected twins intermediate ordering was observed for 84 of the 104 probes (81%) whose expression differed significantly between probands and unrelated controls.
Conclusions: Alterations in expression of a limited number of genes may influence the dysregulation of numerous, integrated immune response, cell signaling and regulatory pathways that are common to a number of SAID. Gene expression profiles in peripheral blood suggest that for genes in these critical pathways, unaffected twins may be in a transitional or intermediate state of immune dysregulation between twins with SAID and unrelated controls, perhaps predisposing them to the development of SAID given the necessary and sufficient environmental exposures.