Transcriptional and Cellular Diversity of the Human Heart

Circulation. 2020 Aug 4;142(5):466-482. doi: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.119.045401. Epub 2020 May 14.


Background: The human heart requires a complex ensemble of specialized cell types to perform its essential function. A greater knowledge of the intricate cellular milieu of the heart is critical to increase our understanding of cardiac homeostasis and pathology. As recent advances in low-input RNA sequencing have allowed definitions of cellular transcriptomes at single-cell resolution at scale, we have applied these approaches to assess the cellular and transcriptional diversity of the nonfailing human heart.

Methods: Microfluidic encapsulation and barcoding was used to perform single nuclear RNA sequencing with samples from 7 human donors, selected for their absence of overt cardiac disease. Individual nuclear transcriptomes were then clustered based on transcriptional profiles of highly variable genes. These clusters were used as the basis for between-chamber and between-sex differential gene expression analyses and intersection with genetic and pharmacologic data.

Results: We sequenced the transcriptomes of 287 269 single cardiac nuclei, revealing 9 major cell types and 20 subclusters of cell types within the human heart. Cellular subclasses include 2 distinct groups of resident macrophages, 4 endothelial subtypes, and 2 fibroblast subsets. Comparisons of cellular transcriptomes by cardiac chamber or sex reveal diversity not only in cardiomyocyte transcriptional programs but also in subtypes involved in extracellular matrix remodeling and vascularization. Using genetic association data, we identified strong enrichment for the role of cell subtypes in cardiac traits and diseases. Intersection of our data set with genes on cardiac clinical testing panels and the druggable genome reveals striking patterns of cellular specificity.

Conclusions: Using large-scale single nuclei RNA sequencing, we defined the transcriptional and cellular diversity in the normal human heart. Our identification of discrete cell subtypes and differentially expressed genes within the heart will ultimately facilitate the development of new therapeutics for cardiovascular diseases.

Keywords: RNA; cardiovascular disease; heart.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adipocytes / metabolism
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Cardiovascular Agents / pharmacology
  • Cardiovascular Agents / therapeutic use
  • Endothelial Cells / classification
  • Endothelial Cells / metabolism
  • Fibroblasts / classification
  • Fibroblasts / metabolism
  • Gene Ontology
  • Heart / innervation
  • Heart Atria / cytology
  • Heart Diseases / drug therapy
  • Heart Ventricles / cytology
  • Homeostasis
  • Humans
  • Lymphocyte Subsets / metabolism
  • Macrophages / classification
  • Macrophages / metabolism
  • Microfluidic Analytical Techniques
  • Middle Aged
  • Myocardium / cytology*
  • Myocardium / metabolism
  • Myocytes, Cardiac / metabolism
  • Myocytes, Smooth Muscle / metabolism
  • Pericytes / metabolism
  • RNA-Seq
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Single-Cell Analysis
  • Transcription, Genetic*
  • Transcriptome


  • Cardiovascular Agents