Vogt-Koyanagi-Harada (VKH) disease is a systemic autoimmune disorder affecting multiple organs, including eyes, skin, and central nervous system. It is known that monocytes significantly contribute to the development of autoimmune disease. However, the subset heterogeneity with unique functions and signatures in human circulating monocytes and the identity of disease-specific monocytic populations remain largely unknown. Here, we employed an advanced single-cell RNA sequencing technology to systematically analyze 11,259 human circulating monocytes and genetically defined their subpopulations. We constructed a precise atlas of human blood monocytes, identified six subpopulations-including S100A12, HLA, CD16, proinflammatory, megakaryocyte-like, and NK-like monocyte subsets-and uncovered two previously unidentified subsets: HLA and megakaryocyte-like monocyte subsets. Relative to healthy individuals, cellular composition, gene expression signatures, and activation states were markedly alternated in VKH patients utilizing cell type-specific programs, especially the CD16 and proinflammatory monocyte subpopulations. Notably, we discovered a disease-relevant subgroup, proinflammatory monocytes, which showed a discriminative gene expression signature indicative of inflammation, antiviral activity, and pathologic activation, and converted into a pathologic activation state implicating the active inflammation during VKH disease. Additionally, we found the cell type-specific transcriptional signature of proinflammatory monocytes, ISG15, whose production might reflect the treatment response. Taken together, in this study, we present discoveries on accurate classification, molecular markers, and signaling pathways for VKH disease-associated monocytes. Therapeutically targeting this proinflammatory monocyte subpopulation would provide an attractive approach for treating VKH, as well as other autoimmune diseases.
Keywords: ISG15; Vogt–Koyanagi–Harada disease; monocyte subsets; single-cell RNA sequencing.