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In Frontiers in immunology ; h5-index 100.0

Objective : The decreased stability of atherosclerotic plaques increases the risk of ischemic stroke. However, the specific characteristics of dysregulated immune cells and effective diagnostic biomarkers associated with stability in atherosclerotic plaques are poorly characterized. This research aims to investigate the role of immune cells and explore diagnostic biomarkers in the formation of unstable plaques for the sake of gaining new insights into the underlying molecular mechanisms and providing new perspectives for disease detection and therapy.

Method : Using the CIBERSORT method, 22 types of immune cells between stable and unstable carotid atherosclerotic plaques from RNA-sequencing and microarray data in the public GEO database were quantitated. Differentially expressed genes (DEGs) were further calculated and were analyzed for enrichment of GO Biological Process and KEGG pathways. Important cell types and hub genes were screened using machine learning methods including least absolute shrinkage and selection operator (LASSO) regression and random forest. Single-cell RNA sequencing and clinical samples were further used to validate critical cell types and hub genes. Finally, the DGIdb database of gene-drug interaction data was utilized to find possible therapeutic medicines and show how pharmaceuticals, genes, and immune cells interacted.

Results : A significant difference in immune cell infiltration was observed between unstable and stable plaques. The proportions of M0, M1, and M2 macrophages were significantly higher and that of CD8+ T cells and NK cells were significantly lower in unstable plaques than that in stable plaques. With respect to DEGs, antigen presentation genes (CD74, B2M, and HLA-DRA), inflammation-related genes (MMP9, CTSL, and IFI30), and fatty acid-binding proteins (CD36 and APOE) were elevated in unstable plaques, while the expression of smooth muscle contraction genes (TAGLN, ACAT2, MYH10, and MYH11) was decreased in unstable plaques. M1 macrophages had the highest instability score and contributed to atherosclerotic plaque instability. CD68, PAM, and IGFBP6 genes were identified as the effective diagnostic markers of unstable plaques, which were validated by validation datasets and clinical samples. In addition, insulin, nivolumab, indomethacin, and α-mangostin were predicted to be potential therapeutic agents for unstable plaques.

Conclusion : M1 macrophages is an important cause of unstable plaque formation, and CD68, PAM, and IGFBP6 could be used as diagnostic markers to identify unstable plaques effectively.

Wang Jing, Kang Zijian, Liu Yandong, Li Zifu, Liu Yang, Liu Jianmin


biomarker, carotid artery atherosclerosis, immune infiltration, machine learning, unstable atherosclerosis