Transcriptomic analysis of immune cells in a multi-ethnic cohort of systemic lupus erythematosus patients identifies ethnicity- and disease-specific expression signatures

Commun Biol. 2021 Apr 21;4(1):488. doi: 10.1038/s42003-021-02000-9.


Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is an autoimmune disease in which outcomes vary among different racial groups. We leverage cell-sorted RNA-seq data (CD14+ monocytes, B cells, CD4+ T cells, and NK cells) from 120 SLE patients (63 Asian and 57 White individuals) and apply a four-tier approach including unsupervised clustering, differential expression analyses, gene co-expression analyses, and machine learning to identify SLE subgroups within this multiethnic cohort. K-means clustering on each cell-type resulted in three clusters for CD4 and CD14, and two for B and NK cells. To understand the identified clusters, correlation analysis revealed significant positive associations between the clusters and clinical parameters including disease activity as well as ethnicity. We then explored differentially expressed genes between Asian and White groups for each cell-type. The shared differentially expressed genes across cells were involved in SLE or other autoimmune-related pathways. Co-expression analysis identified similarly regulated genes across samples and grouped these genes into modules. Finally, random forest classification of disease activity in the White and Asian cohorts showed the best classification in CD4+ T cells in White individuals. The results from these analyses will help stratify patients based on their gene expression signatures to enable SLE precision medicine.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Asian / genetics
  • B-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • California
  • Cohort Studies
  • Ethnicity / genetics
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Humans
  • Killer Cells, Natural / immunology
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Systemic / ethnology*
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Systemic / genetics
  • Male
  • Monocytes / immunology
  • T-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • Transcriptome / immunology*
  • White People / genetics