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BackgroundMonocytes are key mediators of innate immunity to infection, undergoing profound and dynamic changes in epigenetic state and immune function which are broadly protective but may be dysregulated in disease. Here, we aimed to advance understanding of epigenetic regulation following innate immune activation, acutely and in endotoxin tolerant states.MethodsWe exposed human primary monocytes from healthy donors (n = 6) to interferon-γ or differing combinations of endotoxin (lipopolysaccharide), including acute response (2 h) and two models of endotoxin tolerance: repeated stimulations (6 + 6 h) and prolonged exposure to endotoxin (24 h). Another subset of monocytes was left untreated (naïve). We identified context-specific regulatory elements based on epigenetic signatures for chromatin accessibility (ATAC-seq) and regulatory non-coding RNAs from total RNA sequencing.ResultsWe present an atlas of differential gene expression for endotoxin and interferon response, identifying widespread context specific changes. Across assayed states, only 24-29% of genes showing differential exon usage are also differential at the gene level. Overall, 19.9% (6,884 of 34,616) of repeatedly observed ATAC peaks were differential in at least one condition, the majority upregulated on stimulation and located in distal regions (64.1% vs 45.9% of non-differential peaks) within which sequences were less conserved than non-differential peaks. We identified enhancer-derived RNA signatures specific to different monocyte states that correlated with chromatin accessibility changes. The endotoxin tolerance models showed distinct chromatin accessibility and transcriptomic signatures, with integrated analysis identifying genes and pathways involved in the inflammatory response, detoxification, metabolism and wound healing. We leveraged eQTL mapping for the same monocyte activation states to link potential enhancers with specific genes, identifying 1,946 unique differential ATAC peaks with 1,340 expression associated genes. We further use this to inform understanding of reported GWAS, for example involving FCHO1 and coronary artery disease.ConclusionThis study reports context-specific regulatory elements based on transcriptomic profiling and epigenetic signatures for enhancer-derived RNAs and chromatin accessibility in immune tolerant monocyte states, and demonstrates the informativeness of linking such elements and eQTL to inform future mechanistic studies aimed at defining therapeutic targets of immunosuppression and diseases.

Original publication




Journal article


BMC genomics

Publication Date





Wellcome Centre for Human Genetics, Nuffield Department of Clinical Medicine, University of Oxford, Oxford, OX3 7BN, UK.