Studying temporal gene expression shifts during disease progression provides important insights into the biological mechanisms that distinguish adaptive and maladaptive responses. Existing tools for the analysis of time course transcriptomic data are not designed to optimally identify distinct temporal patterns when analyzing dynamic differentially expressed genes (DDEGs). Moreover, there is a lack of methods to assess and visualize the temporal progression of biological pathways mapped from time course transcriptomic datasets. In this study, we developed an open-source R package TrendCatcher (https://github.com/jaleesr/TrendCatcher), which applies the smoothing spline ANOVA model and break point searching strategy to identify and visualize distinct dynamic transcriptional gene signatures and biological processes from longitudinal datasets. We used TrendCatcher to perform a systematic temporal analysis of COVID-19 peripheral blood transcriptomes, including bulk RNA-seq and scRNA-seq time course data. TrendCatcher uncovered the early and persistent activation of neutrophils and coagulation pathways as well as impaired type I interferon (IFN-I) signaling in circulating cells as a hallmark of patients who progressed to severe COVID-19, whereas no such patterns were identified in individuals receiving SARS-CoV-2 vaccinations or patients with mild COVID-19. These results underscore the importance of systematic temporal analysis to identify early biomarkers and possible pathogenic therapeutic targets.
Keywords: COVID-19; Differential expression; Gene expression dynamics; Immunology; Inflammation; RNA-sequencing; Single cell RNA-sequencing; Temporal analysis; Transcriptomics.