Phosphorylcholine (PC) is an epitope on oxidized low-density lipoprotein (oxLDL), apoptotic cells and several pathogens like Streptococcus pneumoniae. Immunoglobulin M against PC (IgM anti-PC) has the ability to inhibit uptake of oxLDL by macrophages and increase clearance of apoptotic cells. From our genome-wide association studies (GWAS) in four European-ancestry cohorts, six SNPs in 11q24.1 were discovered (in 3002 individuals) and replicated (in 646 individuals) to be associated with serum level of IgM anti-PC (the leading SNP rs35923643-G, combined beta=0.19, 95% CI 0.13-0.24, P = 4.3 × 10-11). The haplotype tagged by rs35923643-G (or its proxy SNP rs735665-A) is also known as the top risk allele for chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), and a main increasing allele for general IgM. By using summary GWAS results of IgM anti-PC and CLL in the polygenic risk score (PRS) analysis, PRS based on IgM anti-PC risk alleles positively associated with CLL risk (explained 0.6% of CLL variance, P = 1.2 × 10-15). Functional prediction suggested that rs35923643-G might impede the binding of Runt-related transcription factor 3 (RUNX3), a tumor suppressor playing a central role in the immune regulation of cancers. Contrary to the expectations from the shared genetics between IgM anti-PC and CLL, an inverse relation at the phenotypic level was found in a nested case-control study (30 CLL cases with 90 age- and sex-matched controls), potentially reflecting reverse causation. The suggested function of the top variant as well as the phenotypic association between IgM anti-PC and CLL risk needs replication and motivates further studies.

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Human molecular genetics

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Department of Medical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden.