TLR4 activation initiates a signaling cascade leading to the production of type I IFNs and of the downstream IFN-stimulated genes (ISGs). Recently, a number of IFN-induced long non-coding RNAs (lncRNAs) that feed-back regulate the IFN response have been identified. Dysregulation of this process, collectively known as the "Interferon (IFN) Response," represents a common molecular basis in the development of autoimmune and autoinflammatory disorders. Concurrently, alteration of lncRNA profile has been described in several type I IFN-driven autoimmune diseases. In particular, both TLR activation and the upregulation of ISGs in peripheral blood mononuclear cells have been identified as possible contributors to the pathogenesis of systemic sclerosis (SSc), a connective tissue disease characterized by vascular abnormalities, immune activation, and fibrosis. However, hitherto, a potential link between specific lncRNA and the presence of a type I IFN signature remains unclear in SSc. In this study, we identified, by RNA sequencing, a group of lncRNAs related to the IFN and anti-viral response consistently modulated in a type I IFN-dependent manner in human monocytes in response to TLR4 activation by LPS. Remarkably, these lncRNAs were concurrently upregulated in a total of 46 SSc patients in different stages of their disease as compared to 18 healthy controls enrolled in this study. Among these lncRNAs, Negative Regulator of the IFN Response (NRIR) was found significantly upregulated in vivo in SSc monocytes, strongly correlating with the IFN score of SSc patients. Weighted Gene Co-expression Network Analysis showed that NRIR-specific modules, identified in the two datasets, were enriched in "type I IFN" and "viral response" biological processes. Protein coding genes common to the two distinct NRIR modules were selected as putative NRIR target genes. Fifteen in silico-predicted NRIR target genes were experimentally validated in NRIR-silenced monocytes. Remarkably, induction of CXCL10 and CXCL11, two IFN-related chemokines associated with SSc pathogenesis, was reduced in NRIR-knockdown monocytes, while their plasmatic level was increased in SSc patients. Collectively, our data show that NRIR affects the expression of ISGs and that dysregulation of NRIR in SSc monocytes may account, at least in part, for the type I IFN signature present in SSc patients.
Keywords: NRIR; interferon; long non-coding RNAs; monocytes; systemic sclerosis.