The role of environmental exposures and gene-environment interactions in the etiology of systemic lupus erythematous

Jennifer M P Woo, Christine G Parks, Søren Jacobsen, Karen H Costenbader, Sasha Bernatsky


Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a complex, chronic autoimmune disease, whose etiology includes both genetic and environmental factors. Individual genetic risk factors likely only account for about one-third of observed heritability among individuals with a family history of SLE. A large portion of the remaining risk may be attributable to environmental exposures and gene-environment interactions. This review focuses on SLE risk associated with environmental factors, ranging from chemical and physical environmental exposures to lifestyle behaviors, with the weight of evidence supporting positive associations between SLE and occupational exposure to crystalline silica, current smoking, and exogenous estrogens (e.g., oral contraceptives and postmenopausal hormones). Other risk factors may include lifestyle behaviors (e.g., dietary intake and sleep) and other exposures (e.g., ultraviolet [UV] radiation, air pollution, solvents, pesticides, vaccines and medications, and infections). Alcohol use may be associated with decreased SLE risk. We also describe the more limited body of knowledge on gene-environment interactions and SLE risk, including IL-10, ESR1, IL-33, ITGAM, and NAT2 and observed interactions with smoking, UV exposure, and alcohol. Understanding genetic and environmental risk factors for SLE, and how they may interact, can help to elucidate SLE pathogenesis and its clinical heterogeneity. Ultimately, this knowledge may facilitate the development of preventive interventions that address modifiable risk factors in susceptible individuals and vulnerable populations.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Internal Medicine
Issue number6
Pages (from-to)755-778
Number of pages24
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2022


  • Arylamine N-Acetyltransferase/genetics
  • Environmental Exposure/adverse effects
  • Gene-Environment Interaction
  • Humans
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Systemic/genetics
  • Occupational Exposure/adverse effects
  • Pesticides/adverse effects
  • Risk Factors


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