Human leukocyte antigen (HLA) is a key genetic factor conferring risk of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), but precise independent localization of HLA effects is extremely challenging. As a result, the contribution of specific HLA alleles and amino-acid residues to the overall risk of SLE and to risk of specific autoantibodies are far from completely understood. Here, we dissected (a) overall SLE association signals across HLA, (b) HLA-peptide interaction, and (c) residue-autoantibody association. Classical alleles, SNPs, and amino-acid residues of eight HLA genes were imputed across 4,915 SLE cases and 13,513 controls from Eastern Asia. We performed association followed by conditional analysis across HLA, assessing both overall SLE risk and risk of autoantibody production. DR15 alleles HLA-DRB1*15:01 (P = 1.4x10-27, odds ratio (OR) = 1.57) and HLA-DQB1*06:02 (P = 7.4x10-23, OR = 1.55) formed the most significant haplotype (OR = 2.33). Conditioned protein-residue signals were stronger than allele signals and mapped predominantly to HLA-DRB1 residue 13 (P = 2.2x10-75) and its proxy position 11 (P = 1.1x10-67), followed by HLA-DRB1-37 (P = 4.5x10-24). After conditioning on HLA-DRB1, novel associations at HLA-A-70 (P = 1.4x10-8), HLA-DPB1-35 (P = 9.0x10-16), HLA-DQB1-37 (P = 2.7x10-14), and HLA-B-9 (P = 6.5x10-15) emerged. Together, these seven residues increased the proportion of explained heritability due to HLA to 2.6%. Risk residues for both overall disease and hallmark autoantibodies (i.e., nRNP: DRB1-11, P = 2.0x10-14; DRB1-13, P = 2.9x10-13; DRB1-30, P = 3.9x10-14) localized to the peptide-binding groove of HLA-DRB1. Enrichment for specific amino-acid characteristics in the peptide-binding groove correlated with overall SLE risk and with autoantibody presence. Risk residues were in primarily negatively charged side-chains, in contrast with rheumatoid arthritis. We identified novel SLE signals in HLA Class I loci (HLA-A, HLA-B), and localized primary Class II signals to five residues in HLA-DRB1, HLA-DPB1, and HLA-DQB1. These findings provide insights about the mechanisms by which the risk residues interact with each other to produce autoantibodies and are involved in SLE pathophysiology.
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