Journal Article

Gene Defect behind APECED: A New Clue to Autoimmunity

Petra Björses, Johanna Aaltonen, Nina Horelli-Kuitunen, Marie-Laure Yaspo and Leena Peltonen

in Human Molecular Genetics

Volume 7, issue 10, pages 1547-1553
Published in print September 1998 | ISSN: 0964-6906
Published online September 1998 | e-ISSN: 1460-2083 | DOI:
Gene Defect behind APECED: A New Clue to Autoimmunity

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The molecular background of human autoimmunity is poorly understood. Although many autoimmune diseases have a genetic basis, the actual disease appearance results from a complex interplay between genes and environment and thus these diseases represent typical multifactorial diseases. Even with molecular tools provided by the Human Genome Project, it still remains a challenge to identify the predisposing DNA variants behind such multifactorial traits. Two strategies have been suggested to provide short-cuts to the dissection of the genetic background of complex autoimmune diseases: (i) identification of genes in rare human diseases with a strong autoimmune component or (ii) unravelling loci causing phenotypes resembling autoimmune diseases in inbred mice strains. Autoimmune polyendocrinopathy-candidiasis-ectodermal dystrophy (APECED) is a monogenic autosomal disease with a recessive inheritance pattern, characterized by multiple autoimmune endocrinopathies, chronic mucocutaneous candidiasis and ectodermal dystrophies. Since it is the only known human autoimmune disease inherited in a Mendelian fashion, it provides an excellent model to analyse the genetic component of human autoimmunity. The causative gene for APECED was isolated recently by a traditional positional cloning strategy by two independent groups. The cDNA for the APECED gene proved to originate from a novel gene, AIRE, which is expressed prevalently in thymus, pancreas and adrenal cortex. Multiple mutations in AIRE have been identified in APECED patients. The predicted proline-rich AIRE polypeptide harbours two PHD-type zinc finger motifs and contains a putative nuclear targeting signal suggesting its involvement in the regulation of transcription. In the future, functional analysis of the AIRE protein both in vitro and in vivo will provide valuable insight not only into the molecular pathogenesis of APECED but also into the aetiology of autoimmunity in general.

Journal Article.  5147 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Genetics and Genomics

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