Epigenome-Wide Comparative Study Reveals Key Differences Between Mixed Connective Tissue Disease and Related Systemic Autoimmune Diseases

Carnero-Montoro E, Barturen G, Povedano E, Kerick M, Martinez-Bueno M; PRECISESADS Clinical Consortium; Ballestar E, Martin J, Teruel M, Alarcón-Riquelme ME.


Mixed Connective Tissue Disease (MCTD) is a rare complex systemic autoimmune disease (SAD) characterized by the presence of increased levels of anti-U1 ribonucleoprotein autoantibodies and signs and symptoms that resemble other SADs such as systemic sclerosis (SSc), rheumatoid arthritis (RA), and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). Due to its low prevalence, this disease has been very poorly studied at the molecular level. We performed for the first time an epigenome-wide association study interrogating DNA methylation data obtained with the Infinium MethylationEPIC array from whole blood samples in 31 patients diagnosed with MCTD and 255 healthy subjects. We observed a pervasive hypomethylation involving 170 genes enriched for immune-related function such as those involved in type I interferon signaling pathways or in negative regulation of viral genome replication. We mostly identified epigenetic signals at genes previously implicated in other SADs, for example MX1, PARP9, DDX60, or IFI44L, for which we also observed that MCTD patients exhibit higher DNA methylation variability compared with controls, suggesting that these sites might be involved in plastic immune responses that are relevant to the disease. Through methylation quantitative trait locus (meQTL) analysis we identified widespread local genetic effects influencing DNA methylation variability at MCTD-associated sites. Interestingly, for IRF7, IFI44 genes, and the HLA region we have evidence that they could be exerting a genetic risk on MCTD mediated through DNA methylation changes. Comparison of MCTD-associated epigenome with patients diagnosed with SLE, or Sjögren's Syndrome, reveals a common interferon-related epigenetic signature, however we find substantial epigenetic differences when compared with patients diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and systemic sclerosis. Furthermore, we show that MCTD-associated CpGs are potential epigenetic biomarkers with high diagnostic value. Our study serves to reveal new genes and pathways involved in MCTD, to illustrate the important role of epigenetic modifications in MCTD pathology, in mediating the interaction between different genetic and environmental MCTD risk factors, and as potential biomarkers of SADs.

Jump to pubmed