Pneumonia represents the leading infectious cause of death in the United States. Foxp3+ regulatory T cells promote recovery from severe pneumonia in mice, but T cell responses in patients with pneumonia remain incompletely characterized because of the limited ability to serially sample the distal airspaces and perform multidimensional molecular assessments on the small numbers of recovered cells. As T cell function is governed by their transcriptional and epigenetic landscape, we developed a method to safely perform high-resolution transcriptional and DNA methylation profiling of T cell subsets from the alveoli of critically ill patients. Our method involves nonbronchoscopic bronchoalveolar lavage combined with multiparameter fluorescence-activated cell sorting, unsupervised low-input RNA-sequencing, and a modified reduced-representation bisulfite sequencing protocol. Here, we demonstrate the safety and feasibility of our method and use it to validate functional genomic elements that were predicted by mouse models. Because of its potential for widespread application, our techniques allow unprecedented insights into the biology of human pneumonia.
James M. Walter, Kathryn A. Helmin, Hiam Abdala-Valencia, Richard G. Wunderink, Benjamin D. Singer