Background: Rheumatic heart disease (RHD) after group A streptococcus (GAS) infections is heritable and prevalent in Indigenous populations. Molecular mimicry between human and GAS proteins triggers proinflammatory cardiac valve-reactive T cells.
Methods: Genome-wide genetic analysis was undertaken in 1263 Aboriginal Australians (398 RHD cases; 865 controls). Single-nucleotide polymorphisms were genotyped using Illumina HumanCoreExome BeadChips. Direct typing and imputation was used to fine-map the human leukocyte antigen (HLA) region. Epitope binding affinities were mapped for human cross-reactive GAS proteins, including M5 and M6.
Results: The strongest genetic association was intronic to HLA-DQA1 (rs9272622; P = 1.86 × 10-7). Conditional analyses showed rs9272622 and/or DQA1*AA16 account for the HLA signal. HLA-DQA1*0101_DQB1*0503 (odds ratio [OR], 1.44; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.09-1.90; P = 9.56 × 10-3) and HLA-DQA1*0103_DQB1*0601 (OR, 1.27; 95% CI, 1.07-1.52; P = 7.15 × 10-3) were risk haplotypes; HLA_DQA1*0301-DQB1*0402 (OR 0.30, 95%CI 0.14-0.65, P = 2.36 × 10-3) was protective. Human myosin cross-reactive N-terminal and B repeat epitopes of GAS M5/M6 bind with higher affinity to DQA1/DQB1 alpha/beta dimers for the 2-risk haplotypes than the protective haplotype.
Conclusions: Variation at HLA_DQA1-DQB1 is the major genetic risk factor for RHD in Aboriginal Australians studied here. Cross-reactive epitopes bind with higher affinity to alpha/beta dimers formed by risk haplotypes, supporting molecular mimicry as the key mechanism of RHD pathogenesis.