Atlas of the Immune Cell Repertoire in Mouse Atherosclerosis Defined by Single-Cell RNA-Sequencing and Mass Cytometry
Rationale: Atherosclerosis is a chronic inflammatory disease that is driven by the interplay of pro- and anti-inflammatory leukocytes in the aorta. Yet, the phenotypic and transcriptional diversity of aortic leukocytes is only poorly understood.
Objective: We characterized leukocytes from healthy and atherosclerotic mouse aortas in-depth by single cell RNA-sequencing (scRNAseq) and mass cytometry (CyTOF) to define an atlas of the immune cell landscape in atherosclerosis.
Methods and Results: Employing scRNAseq of aortic leukocytes from chow (CD) and western diet (WD) fed Apoe-/- and Ldlr-/- mice, we detected 11 principal leukocyte clusters with distinct phenotypical and spatial characteristics, while the cellular repertoire in healthy aortas was less diverse. Gene set enrichment analysis on a single cell level established that multiple pathways, such as for lipid metabolism, proliferation, and cytokine secretion, were confined to particular leukocyte clusters. Leukocyte populations were differentially regulated in atherosclerotic Apoe-/- and Ldlr-/- mice. We confirmed the phenotypic diversity of these clusters with a novel CyTOF 35-marker panel with metal-labelled antibodies and conventional flow cytometry. Cell populations retrieved by these protein-based approaches were highly correlated to transcriptionally defined clusters. In an integrated screening strategy of scRNAseq, CyTOF, and FACS, we detected three principal B-cell subsets with alterations in surface markers, functional pathways, and in vitro cytokine secretion. Finally, we used leukocyte cluster gene signatures to enumerate leukocyte frequencies in 126 human plaques by a genetic deconvolution strategy. This approach revealed that human carotid plaques and microdissected mouse plaques were mostly populated by macrophages, T-cells, and monocytes. In addition, the frequency of genetically defined leukocyte populations in carotid plaques predicted cardiovascular events in patients.
Conclusions: The definition of leukocyte diversity by high-dimensional analyses enables a fine-grained analysis of aortic leukocyte subsets, reveals new immunological mechanisms and cell-type specific pathways, and establishes a functional relevance for lesional leukocytes in human atherosclerosis.
- flow cytometry
- single cell RNA-sequencing
- mass cytometry
- immune system
- Received December 6, 2017.
- Revision received March 4, 2018.
- Accepted March 14, 2018.