Dengue virus (DENV) infection can result in severe complications. However, the understanding of the molecular correlates of severity is limited, partly due to difficulties in defining the peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) that contain DENV RNA in vivo. Accordingly, there are currently no biomarkers predictive of progression to severe dengue (SD). Bulk transcriptomics data are difficult to interpret because blood consists of multiple cell types that may react differently to infection. Here, we applied virus-inclusive single-cell RNA-seq approach (viscRNA-Seq) to profile transcriptomes of thousands of single PBMCs derived early in the course of disease from six dengue patients and four healthy controls and to characterize distinct leukocyte subtypes that harbor viral RNA (vRNA). Multiple IFN response genes, particularly MX2 in naive B cells and CD163 in CD14+ CD16+ monocytes, were up-regulated in a cell-specific manner before progression to SD. The majority of vRNA-containing cells in the blood of two patients who progressed to SD were naive IgM B cells expressing the CD69 and CXCR4 receptors and various antiviral genes, followed by monocytes. Bystander, non-vRNA-containing B cells also demonstrated immune activation, and IgG1 plasmablasts from two patients exhibited clonal expansions. Lastly, assembly of the DENV genome sequence revealed diversity at unexpected sites. This study presents a multifaceted molecular elucidation of natural dengue infection in humans with implications for any tissue and viral infection and proposes candidate biomarkers for prediction of SD.
Keywords: biomarkers; dengue; single cell; transcriptomics; virus–host interactions.
Copyright © 2018 the Author(s). Published by PNAS.