Research Article

Mapping the human DC lineage through the integration of high-dimensional techniques

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Science  09 Jun 2017:
Vol. 356, Issue 6342, eaag3009
DOI: 10.1126/science.aag3009

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Tracing development of the dendritic cell lineage

Dendritic cells (DCs) are important components of the immune system that form from the bone marrow into two major cell lineages: plasmacytoid DCs and conventional DCs. See et al. applied single-cell RNA sequencing and cytometry by time-of-flight to characterize the developmental pathways of these cells. They identified blood DC precursors that shared surface markers with plasmacytoid DCs but that were functionally distinct. This unsuspected level of complexity in pre-DC populations reveals additional cell types and refines understanding of known cell types.

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Structured Abstract

INTRODUCTION

Dendritic cells (DC) are professional antigen-presenting cells that orchestrate immune responses. The human DC population comprises multiple subsets, including plasmacytoid DC (pDC) and two functionally specialized lineages of conventional DC (cDC1 and cDC2), whose origins and differentiation pathways remain incompletely defined.

RATIONALE

As DC are essential regulators of the immune response in health and disease, potential intervention strategies aiming at manipulation of these cells will require in-depth insights of their origins, the mechanisms that govern their homeostasis, and their functional properties. Here, we employed two unbiased high-dimensional technologies to characterize the human DC lineage from bone marrow to blood.

RESULTS

We isolated the DC-containing population (LineageHLADR+CD135+ cells) from human blood and defined the transcriptomes of 710 individual cells using massively parallel single-cell mRNA sequencing. By combining complementary bioinformatic approaches, we identified a small cluster of cells within this population as putative DC precursors (pre-DC). We then confirmed this finding using cytometry by time-of-flight (CyTOF) to simultaneously measure the expression of a panel of 38 different proteins at the single-cell level on LineageHLADR+ cells and found that pre-DC possessed a CD123+CD33+CD45RA+ phenotype. We confirmed the precursor potential of pre-DC by establishing their potential to differentiate in vitro into cDC1 and cDC2, but not pDC, in the known proportions found in vivo.

Interestingly, pre-DC also express classical pDC markers, including CD123, CD303, and CD304. Thus, any previous studies using these markers to identify or isolate pDC will have inadvertently included CD123+CD33+ pre-DC. We provide here new markers that can be used to identify unambiguously pre-DC from pDC, including CD33, CX3CR1, CD2, CD5, and CD327. When CD123+CD33+ pre-DC and CD123+CD33 pDC were isolated separately, we observed that pre-DC have unique functional properties that were previously attributed to pDC. Although pDC remain bona fide interferon-α–producing cells, their reported interleukin-12 (IL-12) production and CD4 T cell allostimulatory capacity can likely be attributed to “contaminating” pre-DC.

We then asked whether the pre-DC population contained both uncommitted and committed pre-cDC1 and pre-cDC2 precursors, as recently shown in mice. Using microfluidic single-cell mRNA sequencing (scmRNAseq), we showed that the human pre-DC population contains cells exhibiting transcriptomic priming toward cDC1 and cDC2 lineages. Flow cytometry and in vitro DC differentiation experiments further identified CD123+CADM1CD1c putative uncommitted pre-DC, alongside CADM1+CD1c pre-cDC1 and CADM1CD1c+ pre-cDC2. Finally, we found that pre-DC subsets expressed T cell costimulatory molecules and induced comparable proliferation and polarization of naïve CD4 T cells as adult DC. However, exposure to the Toll-like receptor 9 (TLR9) ligand CpG triggered IL-12p40 and tumor necrosis factor–α production by early pre-DC, pre-cDC1, and pre-cDC2, in contrast to differentiated cDC1 and cDC2, which do not express TLR9.

CONCLUSION

Using unsupervised scmRNAseq and CyTOF analyses, we have unraveled the complexity of the human DC lineage at the single-cell level, revealing a continuous process of differentiation that starts in the bone marrow (BM) with common DC progenitors (CDP), diverges at the point of emergence of pre-DC and pDC potential, and culminates in maturation of both lineages in the blood and spleen. The pre-DC compartment contains functionally and phenotypically distinct lineage-committed subpopulations, including one early uncommitted CD123+ pre-DC subset and two CD45RA+CD123lo lineage-committed subsets. The discovery of multiple committed pre-DC populations with unique capabilities opens promising new avenues for the therapeutic exploitation of DC subset-specific targeting.

Human DC emerge from BM CDP, diverge at the point of emergence of pre-DC and pDC potential, and culminate in maturation of both lineages in the blood.

The pre-DC compartment further differentiates into functionally and phenotypically distinct lineage-committed subpopulations, including one early uncommitted CD123+ pre-DC subset (early pre-DC), which give rise to both cDC1 and cDC2 through corresponding CD45RA+CD123lo pre-cDC1 and pre-cDC2 lineage-committed subsets, respectively.

Abstract

Dendritic cells (DC) are professional antigen-presenting cells that orchestrate immune responses. The human DC population comprises two main functionally specialized lineages, whose origins and differentiation pathways remain incompletely defined. Here, we combine two high-dimensional technologies—single-cell messenger RNA sequencing (scmRNAseq) and cytometry by time-of-flight (CyTOF)—to identify human blood CD123+CD33+CD45RA+ DC precursors (pre-DC). Pre-DC share surface markers with plasmacytoid DC (pDC) but have distinct functional properties that were previously attributed to pDC. Tracing the differentiation of DC from the bone marrow to the peripheral blood revealed that the pre-DC compartment contains distinct lineage-committed subpopulations, including one early uncommitted CD123high pre-DC subset and two CD45RA+CD123low lineage-committed subsets exhibiting functional differences. The discovery of multiple committed pre-DC populations opens promising new avenues for the therapeutic exploitation of DC subset-specific targeting.

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