Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic inflammatory autoimmune disease driven by genetic, environmental and epigenetic factors. Long non-coding RNAs (LncRNAs) are a key component of the epigenetic mechanisms and are known to be involved in the development of autoimmune diseases. In this work we aimed to identify significantly differentially expressed LncRNAs (DE-LncRNAs) that are functionally connected to modulated genes strictly associated with RA. In total, 542,500 transcripts have been profiled in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) from four patients with early onset RA prior any treatment and four healthy donors using Clariom D arrays. Results were confirmed by real-time PCR in 20 patients and 20 controls. Six DE-LncRNAs target experimentally validated miRNAs able to regulate differentially expressed genes (DEGs) in RA; among them, only FTX, HNRNPU-AS1 and RP11-498C9.15 targeted a large number of DEGs. Most importantly, RP11-498C9.15 targeted the largest number of signalling pathways that were found to be enriched by the global amount of RA-DEGs and that have already been associated with RA and RA–synoviocytes. Moreover, RP11-498C9.15 targeted the most highly connected genes in the RA interactome, thus suggesting its involvement in crucial gene regulation. These results indicate that, by modulating both microRNAs and gene expression, RP11-498C9.15 may play a pivotal role in RA pathogenesis.
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