Mapping Systemic Lupus Erythematosus heterogeneity at the single cell level
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Patients with Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) display a complex blood transcriptome whose cellular origin is poorly resolved. Using single-cell RNA-seq, we profiled ~276,000 PBMCs from 33 children with SLE (cSLE) with different degrees of disease activity (DA) and 11 matched controls. Increased expression of Interferon-stimulated genes (ISGs) distinguished cSLE from healthy control cells. The high-ISG expression signature (ISGhi) derived from a small number of transcriptionally defined subpopulations within major cell types, including monocytes, CD4+ and CD8+ T cells, NK cells, cDCs, pDCs, B cells and especially plasma cells. Expansion of unique subpopulations enriched in ISGs and/or in monogenic Lupus-associated genes classified patients with the highest DA. Profiling of ~82,000 single PBMCs from adult SLE patients confirmed the expansion of similar subpopulations in patients with the highest DA. This study lays the groundwork for resolving the origin of the SLE transcriptional signatures and the disease heterogeneity towards precision medicine applications.
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