Hypomethylation of miR-17-92 cluster in lupus T cells and no significant role for genetic factors in the lupus-associated DNA methylation signature.

01 Oct 2022
Coit P, Roopnarinesingh X, Ortiz-Fernández L, McKinnon-Maksimowicz K, Lewis EE, Merrill JT, McCune WJ, Wren JD, Sawalha AH


Lupus T cells demonstrate aberrant DNA methylation patterns dominated by hypomethylation of interferon-regulated genes. The objective of this study was to identify additional lupus-associated DNA methylation changes and determine the genetic contribution to epigenetic changes characteristic of lupus.


Genome-wide DNA methylation was assessed in naïve CD4 T cells from 74 patients with lupus and 74 age-matched, sex-matched and race-matched healthy controls. We applied a trend deviation analysis approach, comparing methylation data in our cohort with over 16 500 samples. Methylation quantitative trait loci (meQTL) analysis was performed by integrating methylation profiles with genome-wide genotyping data.


In addition to the previously reported epigenetic signature in interferon-regulated genes, we observed hypomethylation in the promoter region of the miR-17-92 cluster in patients with lupus. Members of this microRNA cluster play an important role in regulating T cell proliferation and differentiation. Expression of two microRNAs in this cluster, miR-19b1 and miR-18a, showed a significant positive correlation with lupus disease activity. Among miR-18a target genes, , which encodes a negative regulator of nuclear factor kappa B, was downregulated in lupus CD4 T cells. MeQTL identified in lupus patients showed overlap with genetic risk loci for lupus, including and . The lupus risk allele in (rs1131665) was associated with significant hypomethylation. However, <1% of differentially methylated CpG sites in patients with lupus were associated with an meQTL, suggesting minimal genetic contribution to lupus-associated epigenotypes.


The lupus defining epigenetic signature, characterised by robust hypomethylation of interferon-regulated genes, does not appear to be determined by genetic factors. Hypomethylation of the miR-17-92 cluster that plays an important role in T cell activation is a novel epigenetic locus for lupus.