Research Highlights

Hunting for risk genes

Published online 21 February 2017

Geneticists zero in on two genes that increase the risks of rheumatoid arthritis among Arabs.

Biplab Das

In a first, scientists using genome sequencing to comb through Arab DNA have identified two risk genes for rheumatoid arthritis, an inflammatory disorder than can destroy bone joints causing pain, swelling and stiffness. 

Previously, genetic studies had hunted rheumatoid arthritis risk genes in European and Asian patients, but no similar studies were done for the Arab population.

“This is the first genome-wide scan aimed to identify risk genes for rheumatoid arthritis in patients of Arab ancestry. It will help in furthering the understanding of the pathogenesis of rheumatoid arthritis that could lead to new therapies,” says study co-author Thurayya Arayssi from Weill Cornell Medicine-Qatar, Qatar.

Besides identifying the two genes, this study found that a risk gene commonly found in Europeans and East Asians is also strongly associated with the disorder among Arabs.  

“Our study also confirmed the strong link between a human leukocyte antigen (HLA) gene and rheumatoid arthritis,” says study lead author Richa Saxena from the Broad Institute and Harvard Medical School, USA. 

The HLA genes encode proteins that sit on the surface of white blood cells and other tissues; they play vital roles in generating immune responses during disease. A specific genetic variation within the HLA-DRB1 gene showed the strongest influence on this disease, the researchers say.


  1. Saxena, R. et al. A multi-national Arab genome-wide association study identifies new genetic associations for rheumatoid arthritis. Arthritis Rheumatology (2017).