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Crohn’s disease IRGM risk alleles are associated with altered gene expression in human tissues

Ajayi, T;Innes, CL;Grimm, SA;Rai, P;Finethy, R;Coers, J;Wang, X;Bell, DA;McGrath, JA;Schurman, SH;Fessler, MB;

Crohn's disease (CD) is a chronic inflammatory gastrointestinal disorder. Genetic association studies have implicated dysregulated autophagy in CD. Among risk loci identified are a promoter single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP)(rs13361189) and two intragenic SNPs (rs9637876, rs10065172) in immunity-related GTPase family M ( IRGM), a gene that encodes a protein of the autophagy initiation complex. All three SNPs have been proposed to modify IRGM expression, but reports have been divergent and largely derived from cell lines. Here, analyzing RNA-Sequencing data of human tissues from the Genotype-Tissue Expression Project, we found that rs13361189 minor allele carriers had reduced IRGM expression in whole blood and terminal ileum, and upregulation in ileum of ZNF300P1, a locus adjacent to IRGM on chromosome 5q33.1 that encodes a long noncoding RNA. Whole blood and ileum from minor allele carriers had altered expression of multiple additional genes that have previously been linked to colitis and/or autophagy. Notable among these was an increase in ileum of LTF (lactoferrin), an established fecal inflammatory biomarker of CD, and in whole blood of TNF, a key cytokine in CD pathogenesis. Last, we confirmed that risk alleles at all three loci associated with increased risk for CD but not ulcerative colitis in a case-control study. Taken together, our findings suggest that genetically encoded IRGM deficiency may predispose to CD through dysregulation of inflammatory gene networks. Gene expression profiling of disease target tissues in genetically susceptible populations is a promising strategy for revealing new leads for the study of molecular pathogenesis, and, potentially, for precision medicine.