Distinct Single Cell Gene Expression in Peripheral Blood Monocytes Correlates With Tumor Necrosis Factor Inhibitor Treatment Response Groups Defined by Type I Interferon in Rheumatoid Arthritis

Front Immunol. 2020 Jul 16;11:1384. doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2020.01384. eCollection 2020.


Previously, we demonstrated in test and validation cohorts that type I IFN (T1IFN) activity can predict non-response to tumor necrosis factor inhibitors (TNFi) in rheumatoid arthritis (RA). In this study, we examine the biology of non-classical and classical monocytes from RA patients defined by their pre-biologic treatment T1IFN activity. We compared single cell gene expression in purified classical (CL, n = 342) and non-classical (NC, n = 359) monocytes. In our previous work, RA patients who had either high IFNβ/α activity (>1.3) or undetectable T1IFN were likely to have EULAR non-response to TNFi. In this study comparisons were made among patients grouped according to their pre-biologic treatment T1IFN activity as clinically relevant: "T1IFN undetectable (T1IFN ND) or IFNβ/α >1.3" (n = 9) and "T1IFN detectable but IFNβ/α ≤ 1.3" (n = 6). In addition, comparisons were made among patients grouped according to their T1IFN activity itself: "T1IFN ND," "T1IFN detected and IFNβ/α ≤ 1.3," and "IFNβ/α >1.3." Major differences in gene expression were apparent in principal component and unsupervised cluster analyses. CL monocytes from the T1IFN ND or IFNβ/α >1.3 group were unlikely to express JAK1 and IFI27 (p < 0.0001 and p 0.0005, respectively). In NC monocytes from the same group, expression of IFNAR1, IRF1, TNFA, TLR4 (p ≤ 0.0001 for each) and others was enriched. Interestingly, JAK1 expression was absent in CL and NC monocytes from nine patients. This pattern most strongly associated with the IFNβ/α>1.3 group. Differences in gene expression in monocytes among the groups suggest differential IFN pathway activation in RA patients who are either likely to respond or to have no response to TNFi. Additional transcripts enriched in NC cells of those in the T1IFN ND and IFNβ/α >1.3 groups included MYD88, CD86, IRF1, and IL8. This work could suggest key pathways active in biologically defined groups of patients, and potential therapeutic strategies for those patients unlikely to respond to TNFi.

Keywords: interferon-alpha; interferon-beta; janus kinase 1; monocyte; rheumatoid arthritis; single cell; tumor necrosis factor-alpha; type I interferon.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Antirheumatic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / blood*
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / drug therapy*
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / immunology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interferon Type I / blood*
  • Interferon Type I / immunology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Monocytes / immunology*
  • Monocytes / metabolism
  • Single-Cell Analysis
  • Transcriptome
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor Inhibitors / therapeutic use*


  • Antirheumatic Agents
  • Interferon Type I
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor Inhibitors