Background: Critically ill patients with sepsis and acute respiratory distress syndrome have severely altered physiology and immune system modifications. RNA splicing is a basic molecular mechanism influenced by physiologic alterations. Immune checkpoint inhibitors, such as B and T Lymphocyte Attenuator (BTLA) have previously been shown to influence outcomes in critical illness. We hypothesize altered physiology in critical illness results in alternative RNA splicing of the immune checkpoint protein, BTLA, resulting in a soluble form with biologic and clinical significance.
Methods: Samples were collected from critically ill humans and mice. Levels soluble BTLA (sBTLA) were measured. Ex vivo experiments assessing for cellular proliferation and cytokine production were done using splenocytes from critically ill mice cultured with sBTLA. Deep RNA sequencing was done to look for alternative splicing of BTLA. sBTLA levels were fitted to models to predict sepsis diagnosis.
Results: sBTLA is increased in the blood of critically ill humans and mice and can predict a sepsis diagnosis on hospital day 0 in humans. Alternative RNA splicing results in a premature stop codon that results in the soluble form. sBTLA has a clinically relevant impact as splenocytes from mice with critical illness cultured with soluble BTLA have increased cellular proliferation.
Conclusion: sBTLA is produced as a result of alternative RNA splicing. This isoform of BTLA has biological significance through changes in cellular proliferation and can predict the diagnosis of sepsis.
Keywords: ARDS; BTLA; Critical illness; RNA splicing.