Is Lupus Genetic?

Medical Author: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

We are who we are. This statement might be interpreted as emphasizing the influence that the genetic makeup we inherit from our parents has on our bodies. More and more, scientists are finding that many health conditions result from the pre-programmed coding of the genes that we receive from our ancestors.

Systemic lupus erythematosus ( lupus, or SLE) is an autoimmune disorder that features chronic inflammation of the body's tissues. Autoimmune disorders are illnesses that occur when the body's tissues are attacked by its own immune system. What causes lupus is not yet understood. Past research indicates that a complex interaction involving hormones, the environment, and genetic factors sets the stage for the disease.

To learn more about the genetic factors that have a role in the development of lupus, researchers recently scanned the entire pool of human genes (the human genome) to locate ones that may play a role in causing the disease.

(Background: All genes in the human genome are arranged along 46 chromosomes that are located in the central portion, or nucleus, of cells. These chromosome actually represent 2 sets of 23 chromosomes with each set being contributed by one of the parents.)

Researchers published the results of this study of genes and lupus in the American Journal of Human Genetics 67:1460-1469,2000.

What the researchers found was that lupus actually involves a gene-gene interaction. This means that not just one gene is responsible, but that two genes interact to cause a person to be susceptible to developing lupus. A particular gene for lupus susceptibility was found on chromosome 4 in European Americans. This gene interacts with another gene on chromosome 5.

This new research finding will open the door for the exploration of exactly how these genes influence the body to develop lupus, which perhaps will lead to more accurate tests for diagnosis as well as avenues to better treatment options.

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