Autoimmune disease is 4 times more common in women than men. This bias is largely unexplained. Female skin is “autoimmunity prone,” showing upregulation of many proinflammatory genes, even in healthy women. We previously identified VGLL3 as a putative transcription cofactor enriched in female skin. Here, we demonstrate that skin-directed overexpression of murine VGLL3 causes a severe lupus-like rash and systemic autoimmune disease that involves B cell expansion, autoantibody production, immune complex deposition, and end-organ damage. Excess epidermal VGLL3 drives a proinflammatory gene expression program that overlaps with both female skin and cutaneous lupus. This includes increased B cell–activating factor (BAFF), the only current biologic target in systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE); IFN-κ, a key inflammatory mediator in cutaneous lupus; and CXCL13, a biomarker of early-onset SLE and renal involvement. Our results demonstrate that skin-targeted overexpression of the female-biased factor VGLL3 is sufficient to drive cutaneous and systemic autoimmune disease that is strikingly similar to SLE. This work strongly implicates VGLL3 as a pivotal orchestrator of sex-biased autoimmunity.
Allison C. Billi, Mehrnaz Gharaee-Kermani, Joseph Fullmer, Lam C. Tsoi, Brett D. Hill, Dennis Gruszka, Jessica Ludwig, Xianying Xing, Shannon Estadt, Sonya J. Wolf, Syed Monem Rizvi, Celine C. Berthier, Jeffrey B. Hodgin, Maria A. Beamer, Mrinal K. Sarkar, Yun Liang, Ranjitha Uppala, Shuai Shao, Chang Zeng, Paul W. Harms, Monique E. Verhaegen, John J. Voorhees, Fei Wen, Nicole L. Ward, Andrzej A. Dlugosz, J. Michelle Kahlenberg, Johann E. Gudjonsson