Signals trigger state-specific transcriptional programs to support diversity and homeostasis in immune cells


  • C. Fischer
  • M. Metsger
  • S. Bauch
  • R. Vidal
  • M. Böttcher
  • P. Grote
  • M. Kliem
  • S. Sauer


  • Science Signaling


  • Sci Signal 12 (581): eaao5820


  • Macrophages play key roles in the immune systems of humans and other mammals. Here, we performed single-cell analyses of the mRNAs and proteins of human macrophages to compare their responses to the signaling molecules lipopolysaccharide (LPS), a component of Gram-negative bacteria, and palmitate (PAL), a free fatty acid. We found that, although both molecules signal through the cell surface protein Toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4), they stimulated the expression of different genes, resulting in specific pro- and anti-inflammatory cellular states for each signal. The effects of the glucocorticoid receptor, which antagonizes LPS signaling, and cyclic AMP-dependent transcription factor 3, which inhibits PAL-induced inflammation, on inflammatory response seemed largely determined by digital on-off events. Furthermore, the quantification of transcriptional variance and signaling entropy enabled the identification of cell state-specific deregulated molecular pathways. These data suggest that the preservation of signaling in distinct cells might confer diversity on macrophage populations essential to maintaining major cellular functions.