Multiplexed gene expression analysis of HLA class II-associated podoconiosis implicates chronic immune activation in its pathogenesis

Trans R Soc Trop Med Hyg. 2020 Dec 16;114(12):926-936. doi: 10.1093/trstmh/traa107.


Background: Podoconiosis is a tropical lymphoedema of the leg resulting from barefoot exposure to irritant volcanic soils. Approximately 4 million people are affected, mainly in African highland regions. The pathogenesis of this neglected tropical disease is still largely unknown, although HLA class II (HLAII) polymorphisms are associated with the disease.

Methods: NanoString technology was used to assess expression of 579 immune-related genes in formalin-fixed and paraffin-embedded lymph node archival samples from podoconiosis patients and unaffected controls.

Results: Forty-eight genes were upregulated and 21 downregulated in podoconiosis samples compared with controls. Gene ontology analysis showed differentially expressed genes to be closely related to major histocompatibility complex protein, cytokine and TNF receptor binding genes. Pathway enrichment analysis revealed involvement of lymphocyte activation, adaptive immunity, cytokine signalling, antigen processing and the IL-12 pathways.

Conclusions: This exploratory study reports a multiplex gene expression analysis in podoconiosis and shows upregulation of pro-inflammatory transcripts compatible with the notion of local, chronic immune activation in this HLAII-associated disease. Implicated pathways will inform future research into podoconiosis immunopathogenesis.

Keywords: NanoString; archive; gene expression; immunology; lymph nodes; podoconiosis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Elephantiasis* / genetics
  • Ethiopia
  • Gene Expression
  • Humans
  • Lymphedema*
  • Neglected Diseases
  • Soil


  • Soil