Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



BMC Med Genomics








BACKGROUND: Cardiovascular disease had a global prevalence of 523 million cases and 18.6 million deaths in 2019. The current standard for diagnosing coronary artery disease (CAD) is coronary angiography. Surprisingly, despite well-established clinical indications, up to 40% of the one million invasive cardiac catheterizations return a result of 'no blockage'. The present studies employed RNA sequencing of whole blood to identify an RNA signature in patients with angiographically confirmed CAD.

METHODS: Whole blood RNA was depleted of ribosomal RNA (rRNA) and analyzed by single-molecule sequencing of RNA (RNAseq) to identify transcripts associated with CAD (TRACs) in a discovery group of 96 patients presenting for elective coronary catheterization. The resulting transcript counts were compared between groups to identify differentially expressed genes (DEGs).

RESULTS: Surprisingly, 98% of DEGs/TRACs were down-regulated ~ 1.7-fold in patients with mild to severe CAD (> 20% stenosis). The TRACs were independent of comorbid risk factors for CAD, such as sex, hypertension, and smoking. Bioinformatic analysis identified an enrichment in transcripts such as FoxP1, ICOSLG, IKZF4/Eos, SMYD3, TRIM28, and TCF3/E2A that are likely markers of regulatory T cells (Treg), consistent with known reductions in Tregs in CAD. A validation cohort of 80 patients confirmed the overall pattern (92% down-regulation) and supported many of the Treg-related changes. TRACs were enriched for transcripts associated with stress granules, which sequester RNAs, and ciliary and synaptic transcripts, possibly consistent with changes in the immune synapse of developing T cells.

CONCLUSIONS: These studies identify a novel mRNA signature of a Treg-like defect in CAD patients and provides a blueprint for a diagnostic test for CAD. The pattern of changes is consistent with stress-related changes in the maturation of T and Treg cells, possibly due to changes in the immune synapse.


© The Author(s) 2021.

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