Auxilin is a novel susceptibility gene for congenital heart block which directly impacts fetal heart function

Ann Rheum Dis. 2022 Aug;81(8):1151-1161. doi: 10.1136/annrheumdis-2021-221714. Epub 2022 Apr 25.


Objective: Neonatal lupus erythematosus (NLE) may develop after transplacental transfer of maternal autoantibodies with cardiac manifestations (congenital heart block, CHB) including atrioventricular block, atrial and ventricular arrhythmias, and cardiomyopathies. The association with anti-Ro/SSA antibodies is well established, but a recurrence rate of only 12%-16% despite persisting maternal autoantibodies suggests that additional factors are required for CHB development. Here, we identify fetal genetic variants conferring risk of CHB and elucidate their effects on cardiac function.

Methods: A genome-wide association study was performed in families with at least one case of CHB. Gene expression was analysed by microarrays, RNA sequencing and PCR and protein expression by western blot, immunohistochemistry, immunofluorescence and flow cytometry. Calcium regulation and connectivity were analysed in primary cardiomyocytes and cells induced from pleuripotent stem cells. Fetal heart performance was analysed by Doppler/echocardiography.

Results: We identified DNAJC6 as a novel fetal susceptibility gene, with decreased cardiac expression of DNAJC6 associated with the disease risk genotype. We further demonstrate that fetal cardiomyocytes deficient in auxilin, the protein encoded by DNAJC6, have abnormal connectivity and Ca2+ homoeostasis in culture, as well as decreased cell surface expression of the Cav1.3 calcium channel. Doppler echocardiography of auxilin-deficient fetal mice revealed cardiac NLE abnormalities in utero, including abnormal heart rhythm with atrial and ventricular ectopias, as well as a prolonged atrioventricular time intervals.

Conclusions: Our study identifies auxilin as the first genetic susceptibility factor in NLE modulating cardiac function, opening new avenues for the development of screening and therapeutic strategies in CHB.

Keywords: autoantibodies; autoimmunity; polymorphism, Genetic; sjogren's syndrome.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antibodies, Antinuclear
  • Atrioventricular Block* / genetics
  • Autoantibodies
  • Auxilins*
  • Fetal Heart
  • Genome-Wide Association Study
  • Heart Block / congenital
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Systemic / congenital
  • Mice


  • Antibodies, Antinuclear
  • Autoantibodies
  • Auxilins

Supplementary concepts

  • Congenital heart block
  • Neonatal Systemic lupus erythematosus