Integration of immune cell populations, mRNA-Seq, and CpG methylation to better predict humoral immunity to influenza vaccination: Dependence of mRNA-Seq/CpG methylation on immune cell populations

Michael T. Zimmermann, Richard B Kennedy, Diane E. Grill, Ann L Oberg, Krista M. Goergen, Inna G. Ovsyannikova, Iana H. Haralambieva, Gregory A. Poland

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

6 Scopus citations


The development of a humoral immune response to influenza vaccines occurs on a multisystems level. Due to the orchestration required for robust immune responses when multiple genes and their regulatory components across multiple cell types are involved, we examined an influenza vaccination cohort using multiple high-throughput technologies. In this study, we sought a more thorough understanding of how immune cell composition and gene expression relate to each other and contribute to interindividual variation in response to influenza vaccination. We first hypothesized that many of the differentially expressed (DE) genes observed after influenza vaccination result from changes in the composition of participants' peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs), which were assessed using flow cytometry. We demonstrated that DE genes in our study are correlated with changes in PBMC composition. We gathered DE genes from 128 other publically available PBMC-based vaccine studies and identified that an average of 57% correlated with specific cell subset levels in our study (permutation used to control false discovery), suggesting that the associations we have identified are likely general features of PBMC-based transcriptomics. Second, we hypothesized that more robust models of vaccine response could be generated by accounting for the interplay between PBMC composition, gene expression, and gene regulation. We employed machine learning to generate predictive models of B-cell ELISPOT response outcomes and hemagglutination inhibition (HAI) antibody titers. The top HAI and B-cell ELISPOT model achieved an area under the receiver operating curve (AUC) of 0.64 and 0.79, respectively, with linear model coefficients of determination of 0.08 and 0.28. For the B-cell ELISPOT outcomes, CpG methylation had the greatest predictive ability, highlighting potentially novel regulatory features important for immune response. B-cell ELISOT models using only PBMC composition had lower performance (AUC = 0.67), but highlighted well-known mechanisms. Our analysis demonstrated that each of the three data sets (cell composition, mRNA-Seq,and DNA methylation) may provide distinct information for the prediction of humoral immune response outcomes. We believe that these findings are important for the interpretation of current omics-based studies and set the stage for a more thorough understanding of interindividual immune responses to influenza vaccination.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number445
JournalFrontiers in Immunology
Issue numberAPR
StatePublished - Apr 21 2017



  • Cell sorting
  • Data mining
  • Differential expression
  • Immunology
  • Influenza vaccine
  • Machine learning
  • Methylation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology

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