After 10 years of collecting genetic information on families with the autoimmune disease systemic lupus erythematosus (lupus), researchers funded by the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases have found different genetic regions linked to lupus in African Americans and European Americans. This genetic linkage study may one day help to explain why more African Americans die of lupus and develop more serious complications such as nephritis (kidney failure) compared with people of European descent.

After analyzing the DNA from more than 250 African American and European American pedigrees, John Harley, M.D., Ph.D., and his colleagues at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation identified a region of chromosome 1 (1q21-22 near FcyRIIA) associated with the development of lupus in African American families. They also identified two regions of chromosome 11 associated with lupus in subsets of the African American families. In European American families, they found a genetic linkage near the top of chromosome 4 (at 4p16-15) that contributes to lupus. These results suggest that the genetic origins of lupus may differ in African Americans and European Americans.

Lupus, a rheumatic disease that mainly affects women of child-bearing age, can lead to severe organ damage, and is three times more common in African American women than in Caucasian women. In the United States, as many as one in every 250 African American women develop lupus. By identifying the specific genes that may predispose African Americans to developing lupus, we move a step closer to understanding and better treating this puzzling and difficult disease in the African American population.


Harley JA, Kelly, J. Genetic basis of systemic Lupus erythematosus: A review of the unique genetic contributions in African Americans. J Natl. Med. Assoc. 2002;94(8):670-677.

Harley, JB. The genetic etiology of systemic lupus erythematosus: a short dispatch from the combat zone. Genes and Immunity2002;3(Suppl 1):S1-S4.

Last Reviewed: