An epigenetic and transcriptomic signature of immune tolerance in human monocytes through multi-omics integration

Xanthe Brands, Bastiaan W. Haak, Augustijn M. Klarenbeek, Joe Butler, Fabrice Uhel, Wanhai Qin, Natasja A. Otto, Marja E. Jakobs, Daniël R. Faber, René Lutter, W. Joost Wiersinga, Tom van der Poll, Brendon P. Scicluna

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


Background: The plasticity of monocytes enables them to exert multiple roles during an immune response, including promoting immune tolerance. How monocytes alter their functions to convey immune tolerance in the context of lower respiratory tract infections in humans is not well understood. Here, we sought to identify epigenetic and transcriptomic features of cytokine production capacity in circulating monocytes during community-acquired pneumonia (CAP). Methods: Circulating CD14+ monocytes were obtained from the blood of CAP patients included in a longitudinal, observational cohort study, on hospitalization (acute stage, n=75), and from the same patients after a 1-month follow-up (recovery stage, n=56). Age and sex-matched non-infectious participants were included as controls (n=41). Ex vivo cytokine production after lipopolysaccharide (LPS) exposure was assessed by multiplex assay. Transcriptomes of circulating monocytes were generated by RNA-sequencing, and DNA methylation levels in the same monocytes were measured by reduced representation bisulfite sequencing. Data were integrated by fitting projection-to-latent-structure models, and signatures derived by partial least squares discrimination. Results: Monocytes captured during the acute stage exhibited impaired TNF, IL-1β, IL-6, and IL-10 production after ex vivo stimulation with LPS, relative to controls. IL-6 production was not resolved in recovery monocytes. Multivariate analysis of RNA-sequencing data identified 2938 significantly altered RNA transcripts in acute-stage monocytes (fold expression ≤−1.5 or ≥1.5; adjusted p ≤ 0.01), relative to controls. Comparing DNA methylation levels in circulating monocytes of CAP patients to controls revealed minimal differences, specifically in DNAse hypersensitive sites (HS) of acute-stage monocytes. Data integration identified a cholesterol biosynthesis gene signature and DNAse HS axis of IL-1β and IL-10 production (R2 =0.51). Conclusions: Circulating monocytes obtained from CAP patients during the acute stage exhibited impaired cytokine production capacities, indicative of reprogramming to a state of immune tolerance, which was not fully resolved after 1 month. Our split-sample study showed that 51% of the immune tolerance phenotype can be explained, at least in part, by coordinated shifts in cholesterol biosynthesis gene expression and DNAse HS methylation levels. A multi-scale model identified an epigenetic and transcriptomic signature of immune tolerance in monocytes, with implications for future interventions in immunosuppression. Trial registration: NCT number NCT02928367
Original languageEnglish
Article number131
JournalGenome Medicine
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2021


  • Cytokines
  • DNA methylation
  • Epigenetics
  • Functional genomics
  • Immune tolerance
  • Infection
  • Monocytes
  • Pneumonia

Cite this