EMBO Molecular Medicine (May 2020)

Resolving mechanisms of immune‐mediated disease in primary CD4 T cells

  • Christophe Bourges,
  • Abigail F Groff,
  • Oliver S Burren,
  • Chiara Gerhardinger,
  • Kaia Mattioli,
  • Anna Hutchinson,
  • Theodore Hu,
  • Tanmay Anand,
  • Madeline W Epping,
  • Chris Wallace,
  • Kenneth GC Smith,
  • John L Rinn,
  • James C Lee

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 12, no. 5
pp. n/a – n/a


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Abstract Deriving mechanisms of immune‐mediated disease from GWAS data remains a formidable challenge, with attempts to identify causal variants being frequently hampered by strong linkage disequilibrium. To determine whether causal variants could be identified from their functional effects, we adapted a massively parallel reporter assay for use in primary CD4 T cells, the cell type whose regulatory DNA is most enriched for immune‐mediated disease SNPs. This enabled the effects of candidate SNPs to be examined in a relevant cellular context and generated testable hypotheses into disease mechanisms. To illustrate the power of this approach, we investigated a locus that has been linked to six immune‐mediated diseases but cannot be fine‐mapped. By studying the lead expression‐modulating SNP, we uncovered an NF‐κB‐driven regulatory circuit which constrains T‐cell activation through the dynamic formation of a super‐enhancer that upregulates TNFAIP3 (A20), a key NF‐κB inhibitor. In activated T cells, this feedback circuit is disrupted—and super‐enhancer formation prevented—by the risk variant at the lead SNP, leading to unrestrained T‐cell activation via a molecular mechanism that appears to broadly predispose to human autoimmunity.