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Single-cell RNA-sequencing of peripheral blood mononuclear cells reveals widespread, context-specific gene expression regulation upon pathogenic exposure

  • Oelen, Roy
  • de Vries, Dylan H
  • Brugge, Harm
  • Gordon, M Grace
  • Vochteloo, Martijn
  • Ye, Chun J
  • Westra, Harm-Jan
  • Franke, Lude
  • van der Wijst, Monique GP
Publication Date
Jan 01, 2022
eScholarship - University of California
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The host's gene expression and gene regulatory response to pathogen exposure can be influenced by a combination of the host's genetic background, the type of and exposure time to pathogens. Here we provide a detailed dissection of this using single-cell RNA-sequencing of 1.3M peripheral blood mononuclear cells from 120 individuals, longitudinally exposed to three different pathogens. These analyses indicate that cell-type-specificity is a more prominent factor than pathogen-specificity regarding contexts that affect how genetics influences gene expression (i.e., eQTL) and co-expression (i.e., co-expression QTL). In monocytes, the strongest responder to pathogen stimulations, 71.4% of the genetic variants whose effect on gene expression is influenced by pathogen exposure (i.e., response QTL) also affect the co-expression between genes. This indicates widespread, context-specific changes in gene expression level and its regulation that are driven by genetics. Pathway analysis on the CLEC12A gene that exemplifies cell-type-, exposure-time- and genetic-background-dependent co-expression interactions, shows enrichment of the interferon (IFN) pathway specifically at 3-h post-exposure in monocytes. Similar genetic background-dependent association between IFN activity and CLEC12A co-expression patterns is confirmed in systemic lupus erythematosus by in silico analysis, which implies that CLEC12A might be an IFN-regulated gene. Altogether, this study highlights the importance of context for gaining a better understanding of the mechanisms of gene regulation in health and disease.

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