Transcriptome analysis in acute gastrointestinal graft-versus host disease reveals a unique signature in children and shared biology with pediatric inflammatory bowel disease

Haematologica. 2023 Feb 2. doi: 10.3324/haematol.2022.282035. Online ahead of print.


We performed transcriptomic analyses on freshly frozen (n=21) and paraffin embedded (n=35) gastrointestinal (GI)biopsies from children with and without acute GI graft versus host disease (GVHD) to study differential gene expressions. We identified 164 significant genes, 141 upregulated and 23 downregulated, in acute GVHD from freshy frozen biopsies. CHI3L1 was the top differentially expressed gene in acute GVHD, involved in macrophage recruitment and bacterial adhesion. Mitochondrial genes were among the top downregulated genes. Immune deconvolution identified a macrophage cellular signature. Weighted gene co-expression network analysis showed enrichment of genes in the ERK1/2 cascade. Transcriptome data from 206 ulcerative colitis (UC) patients were included to uncover genes and pathways shared between GVHD and UC. Comparison with the UC transcriptome showed both shared and distinct pathways. Both UC and GVHD transcriptomes shared an innate antimicrobial signature and FCγ1RA/CD64 was upregulated in both acute GVHD (log fold increase 1.7, p=0.001) and UC. Upregulation of the ERK1/2 cascade pathway was specific to GVHD. We performed additional experiments to confirm transcriptomics. Firstly, we examined phosphorylation of ERK (pERK) by immunohistochemistry on GI biopsies (acute GVHD n=10, no GVHD n=10). pERK staining was increased in acute GVHD biopsies compared to biopsies without acute GVHD (p= 0.001). Secondly, plasma CD64, measured by ELISA (n=85) was elevated in acute GI GVHD (p.