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Investigation of Caucasian rheumatoid arthritis susceptibility loci in African patients with the same disease

Sebastien Viatte1, Edward Flynn1, Mark Lunt1, Joanne Barnes1, Madeleine Singwe-Ngandeu2, Sylvette Bas3, Anne Barton14 and Cem Gabay35*

Author affiliations

1 Arthritis Research UK Epidemiology Unit, Manchester Academic Health Science Centre, The University of Manchester, Oxford Road, Manchester, M13 9PT, UK

2 Unit of Rheumatology, Department of Internal Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Yaoundé, Yaoundé, Cameroon

3 Division of Rheumatology, University Hospitals of Geneva, Avenue Beau-Séjour 26, 1211 Geneva 14, Switzerland

4 NIHR Manchester Musculoskeletal Biomedical research Unit, Central Manchester Foundation Trust, Manchester Academic Health Science Centre, Oxford Road, Manchester, M13 9PT, UK

5 Department of Pathology & Immunology, University of Geneva School of Medicine, Rue Michel-Servet 1, 1211 Geneva 4, Switzerland

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Citation and License

Arthritis Research & Therapy 2012, 14:R239  doi:10.1186/ar4082

Published: 3 November 2012



The largest genetic risk to develop rheumatoid arthritis (RA) arises from a group of alleles of the HLA DRB1 locus ('shared epitope', SE). Over 30 non-HLA single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) predisposing to disease have been identified in Caucasians, but they have never been investigated in West/Central Africa. We previously reported a lower prevalence of the SE in RA patients in Cameroon compared to European patients and aimed in the present study to investigate the contribution of Caucasian non-HLA RA SNPs to disease susceptibility in Black Africans.


RA cases and controls from Cameroon were genotyped for Caucasian RA susceptibility SNPs using Sequenom MassArray technology. Genotype data were also available for 5024 UK cases and 4281 UK controls and for 119 Yoruba individuals in Ibadan, Nigeria (YRI, HapMap). A Caucasian aggregate genetic-risk score (GRS) was calculated as the sum of the weighted risk-allele counts.


After genotyping quality control procedures were performed, data on 28 Caucasian non-HLA susceptibility SNPs were available in 43 Cameroonian RA cases and 44 controls. The minor allele frequencies (MAF) were tightly correlated between Cameroonian controls and YRI individuals (correlation coefficient 93.8%, p = 1.7E-13), and they were pooled together. There was no correlation between MAF of UK and African controls; 13 markers differed by more than 20%. The MAF for markers at PTPN22, IL2RA, FCGR2A and IL2/IL21 was below 2% in Africans. The GRS showed a strong association with RA in the UK. However, the GRS did not predict RA in Africans (OR = 0.71, 95% CI 0.29 - 1.74, p = 0.456). Random sampling from the UK cohort showed that this difference in association is unlikely to be explained by small sample size or chance, but is statistically significant with p<0.001.


The MAFs of non-HLA Caucasian RA susceptibility SNPs are different between Caucasians and Africans, and several polymorphisms are barely detectable in West/Central Africa. The genetic risk of developing RA conferred by a set of 28 Caucasian susceptibility SNPs is significantly different between the UK and Africa with p<0.001. Taken together, these observations strengthen the hypothesis that the genetic architecture of RA susceptibility is different in different ethnic backgrounds.