Human immunity exhibits remarkable heterogeneity among individuals, which engenders variable responses to immune perturbations in human populations. Population studies reveal that, in addition to interindividual heterogeneity, systemic immune signatures display longitudinal stability within individuals, and these signatures may reliably dictate how given individuals respond to immune perturbations. We hypothesize that analyzing relationships among these signatures at the population level may uncover baseline immune phenotypes that correspond with response outcomes to immune stimuli. To test this, we quantified global gene expression in peripheral blood CD4+ cells from healthy individuals at baseline and following CD3/CD28 stimulation at two time points 1 mo apart. Systemic CD4+ cell baseline and poststimulation molecular immune response signatures (MIRS) were defined by identifying genes expressed at levels that were stable between time points within individuals and differential among individuals in each state. Iterative differential gene expression analyses between all possible phenotypic groupings of at least three individuals using the baseline and stimulated MIRS gene sets revealed shared baseline and response phenotypic groupings, indicating the baseline MIRS contained determinants of immune responsiveness. Furthermore, significant numbers of shared phenotypedefining sets of determinants were identified in baseline data across independent healthy cohorts. Combining the cohorts and repeating the analyses resulted in identification of over 6000 baseline immune phenotypic groups, implying that the MIRS concept may be useful in many immune perturbation contexts. These findings demonstrate that patterns in complex gene expression variability can be used to define immune phenotypes and discover determinants of immune responsiveness.
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