Functional differences exist between TNFα promoters encoding the common -237G SNP and the rarer HLA-B*5701-linked A variant.
Simpson PD., Moysi E., Wicks K., Sudan K., Rowland-Jones SL., McMichael AJ., Knight J., Gillespie GM.
A large body of functional and epidemiological evidence have previously illustrated the impact of specific MHC class I subtypes on clinical outcome during HIV-1 infection, and these observations have recently been re-iterated in genome wide association studies (GWAS). Yet because of the complexities surrounding GWAS-based approaches and the lack of knowledge relating to the identity of rarer single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) variants, it has proved difficult to discover independent causal variants associated with favourable immune control. This is especially true of the candidate variants within the HLA region where many of the recently proposed disease influencing SNPs appear to reflect linkage with 'protective' MHC class I alleles. Yet causal MHC-linked SNPs may exist but remain overlooked owing to the complexities associated with their identification. Here we focus on the ancestral TNFα promoter -237A variant (rs361525), shown historically to be in complete linkage disequilibrium with the 'protective' HLA-B*5701 allele. Many of the ancestral SNPs within the extended TNFα promoter have been associated with both autoimmune conditions and disease outcomes, however, the direct role of these variants on TNFα expression remains controversial. Yet, because of the important role played by TNFα in HIV-1 infection, and given the proximity of the -237 SNP to the core promoter, its location within a putative repressor region previously characterized in mice, and its disruption of a methylation-susceptible CpG dinucleotide motif, we chose to carefully evaluate its impact on TNFα production. Using a variety of approaches we now demonstrate that carriage of the A SNP is associated with lower TNFα production, via a mechanism not readily explained by promoter methylation nor the binding of transcription factors or repressors. We propose that the -237A variant could represent a minor causal SNP that additionally contributes to the HLA-B*5701-mediated 'protective' effect during HIV-1 infection.