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BACKGROUND: Traditionally, the transcriptomic and proteomic characterisation of CD4+ T cells at the single-cell level has been performed by two largely exclusive types of technologies: single-cell RNA sequencing (scRNA-seq) and antibody-based cytometry. Here, we present a multi-omics approach allowing the simultaneous targeted quantification of mRNA and protein expression in single cells and investigate its performance to dissect the heterogeneity of human immune cell populations. METHODS: We have quantified the single-cell expression of 397 genes at the mRNA level and up to 68 proteins using oligo-conjugated antibodies (AbSeq) in 43,656 primary CD4+ T cells isolated from the blood and 31,907 CD45+ cells isolated from the blood and matched duodenal biopsies. We explored the sensitivity of this targeted scRNA-seq approach to dissect the heterogeneity of human immune cell populations and identify trajectories of functional T cell differentiation. RESULTS: We provide a high-resolution map of human primary CD4+ T cells and identify precise trajectories of Th1, Th17 and regulatory T cell (Treg) differentiation in the blood and tissue. The sensitivity provided by this multi-omics approach identified the expression of the B7 molecules CD80 and CD86 on the surface of CD4+ Tregs, and we further demonstrated that B7 expression has the potential to identify recently activated T cells in circulation. Moreover, we identified a rare subset of CCR9+ T cells in the blood with tissue-homing properties and expression of several immune checkpoint molecules, suggestive of a regulatory function. CONCLUSIONS: The transcriptomic and proteomic hybrid technology described in this study provides a cost-effective solution to dissect the heterogeneity of immune cell populations at extremely high resolution. Unexpectedly, CD80 and CD86, normally expressed on antigen-presenting cells, were detected on a subset of activated Tregs, indicating a role for these co-stimulatory molecules in regulating the dynamics of CD4+ T cell responses.

Original publication

DOI

10.1186/s13073-020-00756-z

Type

Journal article

Journal

Genome Med

Publication Date

24/06/2020

Volume

12

Keywords

AbSeq, C-C chemokine receptor type 9 (CCR9), CD4+ T cells, CD80, CD86, Immunophenotyping, Multi-omics, Regulatory T cells (Tregs), Single-cell RNA sequencing (scRNA-seq)