Background: To investigate the associations between HLA-DRB1 shared epitope (SE) alleles and rheumatoid arthritis in subsets of rheumatoid arthritis defined by autoantibodies in three Asian populations from Malaysia.
Methods: 1,079 rheumatoid arthritis patients and 1,470 healthy controls were included in the study. Levels of antibodies to citrullinated proteins (ACPA) and rheumatoid factors were assessed and the PCR-SSO method was used for HLA-DRB1 genotyping.
Results: The proportion of ACPA positivity among Malay, Chinese and Indian rheumatoid arthritis patients were 62.9%, 65.2% and 68.6%, respectively. An increased frequency of SE alleles was observed in ACPA-positive rheumatoid arthritis among the three Asian ethnic groups. HLA-DRB1*10 was highly associated with rheumatoid arthritis susceptibility in these Asian populations. HLA-DRB1*0405 was significantly associated with susceptibility to rheumatoid arthritis in Malays and Chinese, but not in Indians. HLA-DRB1*01 did not show any independent effect as a risk factor for rheumatoid arthritis in this study and HLA-DRB1*1202 was protective in Malays and Chinese. There was no association between SE alleles and ACPA- negative rheumatoid arthritis in any of the three Asian ethnic groups.
Conclusion: The HLA-DRB1 SE alleles increase the risk of ACPA-positive rheumatoid arthritis in all three Asian populations from Malaysia.