Single-Cell RNA-Seq Reveals the Transcriptional Landscape and Heterogeneity of Aortic Macrophages in Murine Atherosclerosis
Rationale: It is assumed that atherosclerotic arteries contain several macrophage subsets endowed with specific functions. The precise identity of these subsets is poorly characterized as they ha ve been defined by the expression of a restricted number of markers.
Objective: We have applied single-cell RNA-seq as an unbiased profiling strategy to interrogate and classify aortic macrophage heterogeneity at the single-cell level in atherosclerosis.
Methods and Results: We performed single-cell RNA sequencing of total aortic CD45+ cells extracted from the non-diseased (chow fed) and atherosclerotic (11 weeks of high fat diet) aorta of Ldlr-/- mice. Unsupervised clustering singled out 13 distinct aortic cell clusters. Among the myeloid cell populations, Resident-like macrophages with a gene expression profile similar to aortic resident macrophages were found in healthy and diseased aortae, whereas monocytes, monocyte-derived dendritic cells (MoDC), and two populations of macrophages were almost exclusively detectable in atherosclerotic aortae, comprising Inflammatory macrophages showing enrichment in Il1b, and previously undescribed TREM2hi macrophages. Differential gene expression and gene ontology enrichment analyses revealed specific gene expression patterns distinguishing these three macrophage subsets and MoDC, and uncovered putative functions of each cell type. Notably, TREM2hi macrophages appeared to be endowed with specialized functions in lipid metabolism and catabolism, and presented a gene expression signature reminiscent of osteoclasts, suggesting a role in lesion calcification. TREM2 expression was moreover detected in human lesional macrophages. Importantly, these macrophage populations were present also in advanced atherosclerosis and in Apoe-/- aortae, indicating relevance of our findings in different stages of atherosclerosis and mouse models.
Conclusions: These data unprecedentedly uncovered the transcriptional landscape and phenotypic heterogeneity of aortic macrophages and MoDCs in atherosclerotic and identified previously unrecognized macrophage populations and their gene expression signature, suggesting specialized functions. Our findings will open up novel opportunities to explore distinct myeloid cell populations and their functions in atherosclerosis.
- Received December 6, 2017.
- Revision received February 16, 2018.
- Accepted March 14, 2018.