AN UNEXPECTED overlap has been found between rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and Huntingdon’s disease discovered following epigenomic analyses. This finding may put researchers on the path to the development of new additions to the therapeutic armamentarium for both conditions, as well as for other immune-mediated diseases.
The team conducting this study adopted a new approach to studying the epigenome: they developed a unique algorithm, named EpiSig, that integrated and reduced the number of epigenetic combinations in the genes of patients with RA. The team obtained cells from the joints of patients with RA and used patients with osteoarthritis as a control group. During the next stage of the study, the researchers used a process that examines chromatin, DNA, and histone modifications to analyse the data from both patient groups. This initial analysis resulted in 12 terabytes of data. It was at this point that EpiSig was used to conduct an analysis of this data.
As a result of this approach, it was discerned that there was an overlap between the causes of RA and Huntingdon’s disease, a fatal, incurable brain disorder. Speaking about this discovery, the study’s lead author, Dr Gary Firestein, School of Medicine, University California San Diego, San Diego, California, USA, noted: “We did not expect to find an overlap between RA and Huntingdon’s disease, but discovering the unexpected was the reason we developed this technology. Now that we have uncovered this connection, we hope that it opens a door for treatment options for people living with either disease.”
Dr Firestein went on to explain that: “By revealing the comprehensive epigenetics behind RA, we now have a better understanding of this disease. More importantly, our new approach could not only help patients with RA but also people with other immune-mediated diseases.” Building on this comment, the researchers noted that EpiSig could be used to analyse connections between other diseases, which offers the tantalising possibility of uncovering new treatments or the opportunity to repurpose existing ones.