Design and application of single-cell RNA sequencing to study kidney immune cells in lupus nephritis

Nat Rev Nephrol. 2020 Apr;16(4):238-250. doi: 10.1038/s41581-019-0232-6. Epub 2019 Dec 18.


The immune mechanisms that cause tissue injury in lupus nephritis have been challenging to define. The advent of high-dimensional cellular analyses, such as single-cell RNA sequencing, has enabled detailed characterization of the cell populations present in small biopsy samples of kidney tissue. In parallel, the development of methods that cryopreserve kidney biopsy specimens in a manner that preserves intact, viable cells, has enabled the uniform analysis of tissue samples collected at multiple sites and across many geographic areas and demographic cohorts with high-dimensional platforms. The application of these methods to kidney biopsy samples from patients with lupus nephritis has begun to define the phenotypes of both infiltrating and resident immune cells, as well as parenchymal cells, present in nephritic kidneys. The detection of similar immune cell populations in urine suggests that it might be possible to non-invasively monitor immune activation in kidneys. Once applied to large patient cohorts, these high-dimensional studies might enable patient stratification according to patterns of immune cell activation in the kidney or identify disease features that can be used as surrogate measures of efficacy in clinical trials. Applied broadly across multiple inflammatory kidney diseases, these studies promise to enormously expand our understanding of renal inflammation in the next decade.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biopsy, Needle
  • Epithelial Cells / immunology*
  • Epithelial Cells / pathology
  • Exome Sequencing / methods*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Lupus Nephritis / genetics
  • Lupus Nephritis / immunology*
  • Lupus Nephritis / pathology*
  • Male
  • Molecular Biology / methods
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Sequence Analysis, RNA