Mechanistic characterization of RasGRP1 variants identifies an hnRNP-K-regulated transcriptional enhancer contributing to SLE susceptibility

Julio E. Molineros, Bhupinder Singh, Chikashi Terao, Yukinori Okada, Jakub Kaplan, Barbara McDaniel, Shuji Akizuki, Celi Sun, Carol F. Webb, Loren L. Looger, Swapan K. Nath

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11 Scopus citations


Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is an autoimmune disease with a strong genetic component. We recently identified a novel SLE susceptibility locus near RASGRP1, which governs the ERK/MAPK kinase cascade and B-/T-cell differentiation and development. However, precise causal RASGRP1 functional variant(s) and their mechanisms of action in SLE pathogenesis remain undefined. Our goal was to fine-map this locus, prioritize genetic variants likely to be functional, experimentally validate their biochemical mechanisms, and determine the contribution of these SNPs to SLE risk. We performed a meta-analysis across six Asian and European cohorts (9,529 cases; 22,462 controls), followed by in silico bioinformatic and epigenetic analyses to prioritize potentially functional SNPs. We experimentally validated the functional significance and mechanism of action of three SNPs in cultured T-cells. Meta-analysis identified 18 genome-wide significant (p < 5 × 10−8) SNPs, mostly concentrated in two haplotype blocks, one intronic and the other intergenic. Epigenetic fine-mapping, allelic, eQTL, and imbalance analyses predicted three transcriptional regulatory regions with four SNPs (rs7170151, rs11631591-rs7173565, and rs9920715) prioritized for functional validation. Luciferase reporter assays indicated significant allele-specific enhancer activity for intronic rs7170151 and rs11631591-rs7173565 in T-lymphoid (Jurkat) cells, but not in HEK293 cells. Following up with EMSA, mass spectrometry, and ChIP-qPCR, we detected allele-dependent interactions between heterogeneous nuclear ribonucleoprotein K (hnRNP-K) and rs11631591. Furthermore, inhibition of hnRNP-K in Jurkat and primary T-cells downregulated RASGRP1 and ERK/MAPK signaling. Comprehensive association, bioinformatics, and epigenetic analyses yielded putative functional variants of RASGRP1, which were experimentally validated. Notably, intronic variant (rs11631591) is located in a cell type-specific enhancer sequence, where its risk allele binds to the hnRNP-K protein and modulates RASGRP1 expression in Jurkat and primary T-cells. As risk allele dosage of rs11631591 correlates with increased RASGRP1 expression and ERK activity, we suggest that this SNP may underlie SLE risk at this locus.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1066
JournalFrontiers in Immunology
Issue numberMAY
StatePublished - 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • ChIP-qPCR
  • EMSA (electrophoretic mobility shift assay)
  • ERK (extracellular-signal-regulated kinase)
  • Genetic variant
  • Homology
  • Luciferase


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