Single-cell transcriptome profiling of the immune space-time landscape reveals dendritic cell regulatory program in polymicrobial sepsis

Ren Qi Yao, Zhi Xuan Li, Li Xue Wang, Yu Xuan Li, Li Yu Zheng, Ning Dong, Yao Wu, Zhao Fan Xia, Timothy R. Billiar, Chao Ren*, Yong Ming Yao

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Rationale: Evident immunosuppression has been commonly seen among septic patients, and it is demonstrated to be a major driver of morbidity. Nevertheless, a comprehensive view of the host immune response to sepsis is lacking as the majority of studies on immunosuppression have focused on a specific type of immune cells. Methods: We applied multi-compartment, single-cell RNA sequencing (scRNA-seq) to dissect heterogeneity within immune cell subsets during sepsis progression on cecal ligation and puncture (CLP) mouse model. Flow cytometry and multiplex immunofluorescence tissue staining were adopted to identify the presence of ‘mature DCs enriched in immunoregulatory molecules’ (mregDC) upon septic challenge. To explore the function of mregDC, sorted mregDC were co-cultured with naïve CD4+ T cells. Intracellular signaling pathways that drove mregDC program were determined by integrating scRNA-seq and bulk-seq data, combined with inhibitory experiments. Results: ScRNA-seq analysis revealed that sepsis induction was associated with substantial alterations and heterogeneity of canonical immune cell types, including T, B, natural killer (NK), and myeloid cells, across three immune-relevant tissue sites. We found a unique subcluster of conventional dendritic cells (cDCs) that was characterized by specific expression of maturation- and migration-related genes, along with upregulation of immunoregulatory molecules, corresponding to the previously described ‘mregDCs’ in cancer. Flow cytometry and in stiu immunofluorescence staining confirmed the presence of sepsis-induced mregDC at protein level. Functional experiments showed that sepsis-induced mregDCs potently activated naive CD4+ T cells, while promoted CD4+ T cell conversion to regulatory T cells. Further observations indicated that the mregDC program was initiated via TNFRSF-NF-κB- and IFNGR2-JAK-STAT3-dependent pathways within 24 h of septic challenge. Additionally, we confirmed the detection of mregDC in human sepsis using publicly available data from a recently published single-cell study of COVID-19 patients. Conclusions: Our study generates a comprehensive single-cell immune landscape for polymicrobial sepsis, in which we identify the significant alterations and heterogeneity in immune cell subsets that take place during sepsis. Moreover, we find a conserved and potentially targetable immunoregulatory program within DCs that associates with hyperinflammation and organ dysfunction early following sepsis induction.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4606-4628
Number of pages23
Issue number10
StatePublished - 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • dendritic cells
  • immunosuppression
  • sepsis
  • single-cell analysis


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