Unravelling the genetic complexity of autoimmune thyroid disease: HLA, CTLA-4 and beyond.
Simmonds MJ., Gough SCL.
The autoimmune thyroid diseases (AITDs) including Graves' disease (GD) and autoimmune hypothyroidism (AIH) are the commonest of the autoimmune conditions affecting 2-5% of the western population. Twin studies have clearly demonstrated that AITDs are caused by a combination of both environmental and genetic factors. Association of the HLA class II region with AITD has been documented for over 20 years now, but the primary aetiological variant in this region remains unknown. More recently the CTLA-4 gene region has been identified as the second locus conferring susceptibility to AITD. In contrast to HLA, a polymorphism of the CTLA-4 gene, which encodes an important negative regulator of the immune system, has been identified as a candidate for a primary determinant for AITD. A large number of candidate gene and genome wide linkage studies have been involved in the search for the elusive 'third' locus. The thyroglobulin (Tg) gene in humans maps to chromosome 8q, which has been linked in family studies to AITD. A number of association studies in humans and the mouse model for AITD are beginning to implicate the Tg gene although convincing evidence for a primary causative role is still needed. The establishment of large DNA disease resources along with more detailed genetic maps and the development of faster, more effective, high throughput genotyping and sequencing methods, provides some sense of optimism that novel loci will be identified in the near future and the complex aetiology of AITD will be further unraveled.