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A genetics study has shown that African Americans with a particular allele, or form of a gene, are more likely to develop PR3-ANCA disease.

ANCAs are autoantibodies that attack the inside of a certain type of white blood cells called neutrophils. ANCA stands for Anti-Neutrophil Cytoplasmic Autoantibody. When ANCAs attack these neutrophils, they cause the white blood cells to attack the walls of small vessels in different tissues and organs of the body. This causes vasculitis. PR3 stands for proteinase 3, a type of enzyme. Click here to learn more about ANCA.

These findings were recently published in the June 2011 issue of the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology (JASN).

Researchers at the UNC Kidney Center led by Drs. Ronald Falk and Gloria Preston identified an allele “MHC-DRB1*15” as a risk factor for African Americans. Carriers of this allele have a much higher likelihood that they will develop PR3-ANCA disease. The group found that this was not a risk factor for MPO-ANCA disease.

Patients with PR3-ANCA seen by physicians outside of UNC enrolled through the Vasculitis Clinical Research Consortium (VCRC) were tested for this genetic trait and the results indicated that this allele is a common risk factor among African Americans in general.

Dr. Falk explained the significance of these findings.

“When patients ask the question as to whether there is a genetic basis of their disease the answer has been that there is very little evidence to suggest any genetic link. While this statement is probably true for the majority of patients with ANCA vasculitis, it is no longer true for African American patients with PR3-ANCA,” he said.