Introduction: Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a multifactorial autoimmune disease in which genetic and environmental factors interact in the etiology. In this study, we investigated whether smoking and HLA-DRB1 shared-epitope (SE) alleles interact differently in the development of the two major subgroups of rheumatoid arthritis (RA), anti-citrullinated proteins antibody (ACPA)-positive and ACPA-negative disease, in a multiethnic population of Asian descent.
Methods: A case-control study comprising early diagnosed RA cases was carried out in Malaysia between 2005 and 2009. In total, 1,076 cases and 1,612 matched controls participated in the study. High-resolution HLA-DRB1 genotyping was performed for shared-epitope (SE) alleles. All participants answered a questionnaire on a broad range of issues, including smoking habits. The odds ratio (OR) of developing ACPA-positive and ACPA-negative disease was calculated for smoking and the presence of any SE alleles separately. Potential interaction between smoking history (defined as "ever" and "never" smoking) and HLA-DRB1 SE alleles also was calculated.
Results: In our multiethnic study, both the SE alleles and smoking were associated with an increased risk of developing ACPA-positive RA (OR SE alleles, 4.7; 95% confidence interval (CI), 3.6 to 6.2; OR smoking, 4.1; 95% CI, 1.9 to 9.2). SE-positive smokers had an odds ratio of ACPA-positive RA of 25.6 (95% CI, 10.4 to 63.4), compared with SE-negative never-smokers. The interaction between smoking and SE alleles was significant (attributable proportion due to interaction (AP) was 0.7 (95% CI, 0.5 to 1.0)). The HLA-DRB1*04:05 SE allele, which is common in Asian populations, but not among Caucasians, was associated with an increased risk of ACPA-positive RA, and this allele also showed signs of interaction with smoking (AP, 0.4; 95% CI, -0.1 to 0.9). Neither smoking nor SE alleles nor their combination was associated with an increased risk of ACPA-negative RA.
Conclusions: The risk of developing ACPA-positive RA is associated with a strong gene-environment interaction between smoking and HLA-DRB1 SE alleles in a Malaysian multiethnic population of Asian descent. This interaction seems to apply also between smoking and the specific HLA-DRB1*04:05 SE allele, which is common in Asian populations but not in Caucasians.