Genomic regions associated with multiple sclerosis are active in B cells.
Disanto G., Sandve GK., Berlanga-Taylor AJ., Morahan JM., Dobson R., Giovannoni G., Ramagopalan SV.
More than 50 genomic regions have now been shown to influence the risk of multiple sclerosis (MS). However, the mechanisms of action, and the cell types in which these associated variants act at the molecular level remain largely unknown. This is especially true for associated regions containing no known genes. Given the evidence for a role for B cells in MS, we hypothesized that MS associated genomic regions co-localized with regions which are functionally active in B cells. We used publicly available data on 1) MS associated regions and single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) and 2) chromatin profiling in B cells as well as three additional cell types thought to be unrelated to MS (hepatocytes, fibroblasts and keratinocytes). Genomic intervals and SNPs were tested for overlap using the Genomic Hyperbrowser. We found that MS associated regions are significantly enriched in strong enhancer, active promoter and strong transcribed regions (p = 0.00005) and that this overlap is significantly higher in B cells than control cells. In addition, MS associated SNPs also land in active promoter (p = 0.00005) and enhancer regions more than expected by chance (strong enhancer p = 0.0006; weak enhancer p = 0.00005). These results confirm the important role of the immune system and specifically B cells in MS and suggest that MS risk variants exert a gene regulatory role. Previous studies assessing MS risk variants in T cells may be missing important effects in B cells. Similar analyses in other immunological cell types relevant to MS and functional studies are necessary to fully elucidate how genes contribute to MS pathogenesis.