Mixed-effects association of single cells identifies an expanded effector CD4 T cell subset in rheumatoid arthritis.

Sci Transl Med

High-dimensional single-cell analyses have improved the ability to resolve complex mixtures of cells from human disease samples; however, identifying disease-associated cell types or cell states in patient samples remains challenging because of technical and interindividual variation. Here, we present mixed-effects modeling of associations of single cells (MASC), a reverse single-cell association strategy for testing whether case-control status influences the membership of single cells in any of multiple cellular subsets while accounting for technical confounders and biological variation. Applying MASC to mass cytometry analyses of CD4 T cells from the blood of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients and controls revealed a significantly expanded population of CD4 T cells, identified as CD27 HLA-DR effector memory cells, in RA patients (odds ratio, 1.7; = 1.1 × 10). The frequency of CD27 HLA-DR cells was similarly elevated in blood samples from a second RA patient cohort, and CD27 HLA-DR cell frequency decreased in RA patients who responded to immunosuppressive therapy. Mass cytometry and flow cytometry analyses indicated that CD27 HLA-DR cells were associated with RA (meta-analysis = 2.3 × 10). Compared to peripheral blood, synovial fluid and synovial tissue samples from RA patients contained about fivefold higher frequencies of CD27 HLA-DR cells, which comprised ~10% of synovial CD4 T cells. CD27 HLA-DR cells expressed a distinctive effector memory transcriptomic program with T helper 1 (T1)- and cytotoxicity-associated features and produced abundant interferon-γ (IFN-γ) and granzyme A protein upon stimulation. We propose that MASC is a broadly applicable method to identify disease-associated cell populations in high-dimensional single-cell data.

Year of Publication
Sci Transl Med
Date Published
2018 Oct 17
PubMed ID
PubMed Central ID
Grant list
T32 HG002295 / HG / NHGRI NIH HHS / United States
T32 AR007530 / AR / NIAMS NIH HHS / United States
F31 AR070582 / AR / NIAMS NIH HHS / United States
R01 AR064850 / AR / NIAMS NIH HHS / United States
R01 AR063759 / AR / NIAMS NIH HHS / United States
P30 AR070253 / AR / NIAMS NIH HHS / United States
U19 AI111224 / AI / NIAID NIH HHS / United States
U01 HG009379 / HG / NHGRI NIH HHS / United States
UH2 AR067677 / AR / NIAMS NIH HHS / United States