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Preprint in English | bioRxiv | ID: ppbiorxiv-457774


Common genetic variants modulate the cellular response to viruses and are implicated in a range of immune pathologies, including infectious and autoimmune diseases. The transcriptional antiviral response is known to vary between infected cells from a single individual, yet how genetic variants across individuals modulate the antiviral response (and its cell-to-cell variability) is not well understood. Here, we triggered the antiviral response in human fibroblasts from 68 healthy donors, and profiled tens of thousands of cells using single-cell RNA-seq. We developed GASPACHO (GAuSsian Processes for Association mapping leveraging Cell HeterOgeneity), the first statistical approach designed to identify dynamic eQTLs across a transcriptional trajectory of cell populations, without aggregating single-cell data into pseudo-bulk. This allows us to uncover the underlying architecture and variability of antiviral response across responding cells, and to identify more than two thousands eQTLs modulating the dynamic changes during this response. Many of these eQTLs colocalise with risk loci identified in GWAS of infectious and autoimmune diseases. As a case study, we focus on a COVID-19 susceptibility locus, colocalised with the antiviral OAS1 splicing QTL. We validated it in blood cells from a patient cohort and in the infected nasal cells of a patient with the risk allele, demonstrating the utility of GASPACHO to fine-map and functionally characterise a genetic locus. In summary, our novel analytical approach provides a new framework for delineation of the genetic variants that shape a wide spectrum of transcriptional responses at single-cell resolution.

Preprint in English | medRxiv | ID: ppmedrxiv-21253012


While a substantial proportion of adults infected with SARS-CoV-2 progress to develop severe disease, children rarely manifest respiratory complications. Therefore, understanding differences in the local and systemic response to SARS-CoV-2 infection between children and adults may provide important clues about the pathogenesis of SARS-CoV-2 infection. To address this, we first generated a healthy reference multi-omics single cell data set from children (n=30) in whom we have profiled triple matched samples: nasal and tracheal brushings and PBMCs, where we track the developmental changes for 42 airway and 31 blood cell populations from infancy, through childhood to adolescence. This has revealed the presence of naive B and T lymphocytes in neonates and infants with a unique gene expression signature bearing hallmarks of innate immunity. We then contrast the healthy reference with equivalent data from severe paediatric and adult COVID-19 patients (total n=27), from the same three types of samples: upper and lower airways and blood. We found striking differences: children with COVID-19 as opposed to adults had a higher proportion of innate lymphoid and non-clonally expanded naive T cells in peripheral blood, and a limited interferon-response signature. In the airway epithelium, we found the highest viral load in goblet and ciliated cells and describe a novel inflammatory epithelial cell population. These cells represent a transitional regenerative state between secretory and ciliated cells; they were found in healthy children and were enriched in paediatric and adult COVID-19 patients. Epithelial cells display an antiviral and neutrophil-recruiting gene signature that is weaker in severe paediatric versus adult COVID-19. Our matched blood and airway samples allowed us to study the spatial dynamics of infection. Lastly, we provide a user-friendly interface for this data1 as a highly granular reference for the study of immune responses in airways and blood in children.

Preprint in English | medRxiv | ID: ppmedrxiv-21249725


The COVID-19 pandemic, caused by SARS coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), has resulted in excess morbidity and mortality as well as economic decline. To characterise the systemic host immune response to SARS-CoV-2, we performed single-cell RNA-sequencing coupled with analysis of cell surface proteins, providing molecular profiling of over 800,000 peripheral blood mononuclear cells from a cohort of 130 patients with COVID-19. Our cohort, from three UK centres, spans the spectrum of clinical presentations and disease severities ranging from asymptomatic to critical. Three control groups were included: healthy volunteers, patients suffering from a non-COVID-19 severe respiratory illness and healthy individuals administered with intravenous lipopolysaccharide to model an acute inflammatory response. Full single cell transcriptomes coupled with quantification of 188 cell surface proteins, and T and B lymphocyte antigen receptor repertoires have provided several insights into COVID-19: 1. a new non-classical monocyte state that sequesters platelets and replenishes the alveolar macrophage pool; 2. platelet activation accompanied by early priming towards megakaryopoiesis in immature haematopoietic stem/progenitor cells and expansion of megakaryocyte-primed progenitors; 3. increased clonally expanded CD8+ effector:effector memory T cells, and proliferating CD4+ and CD8+ T cells in patients with more severe disease; and 4. relative increase of IgA plasmablasts in asymptomatic stages that switches to expansion of IgG plasmablasts and plasma cells, accompanied with higher incidence of BCR sharing, as disease severity increases. All data and analysis results are available for interrogation and data mining through an intuitive web portal. Together, these data detail the cellular processes present in peripheral blood during an acute immune response to COVID-19, and serve as a template for multi-omic single cell data integration across multiple centers to rapidly build powerful resources to help combat diseases such as COVID-19.