The association of primary Sjögren's syndrome (pSS) with Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC) alleles is quintessential of MHC-disease associations. Indeed, although disease associations with classical HLA class I and II alleles/haplotypes are amply documented, further dissection is often prevented by the strong linkage disequilibrium across the entire MHC complex. Here we study the association of pSS, not with HLA genes, but with the non-conventional MHC encoded class I gene, MICA (MHC class I chain-related gene A). MICA is selectively expressed within epithelia, and is the major ligand for the activatory receptor, NKG2D, both attributes relevant to pSS' etiology. MICA-pSS association was studied in two independent (French and UK) cohorts representing a total of 959 cases and 1,043 controls. MICA*008 allele was shown to be significantly associated with pSS (pcor=2.61 × 10-35). A multivariate logistic regression showed that this association was independent of all major known MHC-linked risk loci/alleles, as well as other relevant candidate loci that are in linkage disequilibrium with MICA*008 i.e. HLA-B*08:01, rs3131619 (T), MICB*008, TNF308A, HLA-DRB1*03:01 and HLA-DRB1*15:01 (P = 1.84 × 10-04). Furthermore, independently of the MICA*008 allele, higher levels of soluble MICA proteins were detected in sera of pSS patients compared to healthy controls. This study hence defines MICA as a new, MHC-linked, yet HLA-independent, pSS risk locus and opens a new front in our understanding of the still enigmatic pathophysiology of this disease. The fact that the soluble MICA protein is further amplified in MICA*008 carrying individuals, might also be relevant in other auto-immune diseases and cancer.
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