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Increased monocyte count as a cellular biomarker for poor outcomes in fibrotic diseases: a retrospective, multicentre cohort study

Scott, M.K.D., Quinn, K., Li, Q. et al.

Background
There is an urgent need for biomarkers to better stratify patients with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis by risk for lung transplantation allocation who have the same clinical presentation. We aimed to investigate whether a specific immune cell type from patients with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis could identify those at higher risk of poor outcomes. We then sought to validate our findings using cytometry and electronic health records.

Methods
We first did a discovery analysis with transcriptome data from the Gene Expression Omnibus at the National Center for Biotechnology Information for 120 peripheral blood mononuclear cell (PBMC) samples of patients with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. We estimated percentages of 13 immune cell types using statistical deconvolution, and investigated the association of these cell types with transplant-free survival. We validated these results using PBMC samples from patients with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis in two independent cohorts (COMET and Yale). COMET profiled monocyte counts in 45 patients with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis from March 12, 2010, to March 10, 2011, using flow cytometry; we tested if increased monocyte count was associated with the primary outcome of disease progression. In the Yale cohort, 15 patients with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (with five healthy controls) were classed as high risk or low risk from April 28, 2014, to Aug 20, 2015, using a 52-gene signature, and we assessed whether monocyte percentage (measured by cytometry by time of flight) was higher in high-risk patients. We then examined complete blood count values in the electronic health records (EHR) of 45 068 patients with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, systemic sclerosis, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, or myelofibrosis from Stanford (Jan 01, 2008, to Dec 31, 2015), Northwestern (Feb 15, 2001 to July 31, 2017), Vanderbilt (Jan 01, 2008, to Dec 31, 2016), and Optum Clinformatics DataMart (Jan 01, 2004, to Dec 31, 2016) cohorts, and examined whether absolute monocyte counts of 0·95 K/μL or greater were associated with all-cause mortality in these patients.

Findings
In the discovery analysis, estimated CD14+ classical monocyte percentages above the mean were associated with shorter transplant-free survival times (hazard ratio [HR] 1·82, 95% CI 1·05–3·14), whereas higher percentages of T cells and B cells were not (0·97, 0·59–1·66; and 0·78, 0·45–1·34 respectively). In two validation cohorts (COMET trial and the Yale cohort), patients with higher monocyte counts were at higher risk for poor outcomes (COMET Wilcoxon p=0·025; Yale Wilcoxon p=0·049). Monocyte counts of 0·95 K/μL or greater were associated with mortality after adjusting for forced vital capacity (HR 2·47, 95% CI 1·48–4·15; p=0·0063), and the gender, age, and physiology index (HR 2·06, 95% CI 1·22–3·47; p=0·0068) across the COMET, Stanford, and Northwestern datasets). Analysis of medical records of 7459 patients with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis showed that patients with monocyte counts of 0·95 K/μL or greater were at increased risk of mortality with lung transplantation as a censoring event, after adjusting for age at diagnosis and sex (Stanford HR=2·30, 95% CI 0·94–5·63; Vanderbilt 1·52, 1·21–1·89; Optum 1·74, 1·33–2·27). Likewise, higher absolute monocyte count was associated with shortened survival in patients with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy across all three cohorts, and in patients with systemic sclerosis or myelofibrosis in two of the three cohorts.

Interpretation
Monocyte count could be incorporated into the clinical assessment of patients with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis and other fibrotic disorders. Further investigation into the mechanistic role of monocytes in fibrosis might lead to insights that assist the development of new therapies.

Citation

Scott, M.K.D., Quinn, K., Li, Q. et al. "Increased monocyte count as a cellular biomarker for poor outcomes in fibrotic diseases: a retrospective, multicentre cohort study" The Lancet (2019): 497–508