The 3p21.31 genetic locus promotes progression to type 1 diabetes through the CCR2/CCL2 pathway

•Serum CCL-2 levels are lower in individuals with islet autoantibodies and type 1 diabetes compared to controls.

•The 3p21.31 genetic locus is associated with type 1 diabetes.

•Serum CCL-2 levels are associated with the 3p21.31 genetic locus.

•The 3p21.31 genetic locus is associated with gene expression of the CCL-2 receptor, CCR2.

Multiple cross-sectional and longitudinal studies have shown that serum levels of the chemokine ligand 2 (CCL-2) are associated with type 1 diabetes (T1D), although the direction of effect differs. We assessed CCL-2 serum levels in a longitudinal cohort to clarify this association, combined with genetic data to elucidate the regulatory role of CCL-2 in T1D pathogenesis.

The Diabetes Autoimmunity Study in the Young (DAISY) followed 310 subjects with high risk of developing T1D. Of these, 42 became persistently seropositive for islet autoantibodies but did not develop T1D (non-progressors); 48 did develop T1D (progressors). CCL-2 serum levels among the three study groups were compared using linear mixed models adjusting for age, sex, HLA genotype, and family history of T1D. Summary statistics were obtained from the CCL-2 protein quantitative trait loci (pQTL) and CCR2 expression QTL (eQTL) studies. The T1D fine mapping association data were provided by the Type 1 Diabetes Genetics Consortium (T1DGC).

Serum CCL-2 levels were significantly lower in both progressors (p = 0.004) and non-progressors (p = 0.005), compared to controls. Two SNPs (rs1799988 and rs746492) in the 3p21.31 genetic locus, which includes the CCL-2 receptor, CCR2, were associated with increased CCR2 expression (p = 8.2e-5 and 5.2e-5, respectively), decreased CCL-2 serum level (p = 2.41e-9 and 6.21e-9, respectively), and increased risk of T1D (p = 7.9e-5 and 7.9e-5, respectively).

The 3p21.31 genetic region is associated with developing T1D through regulatory control of the CCR2/CCL2 immune pathway.