Studies have demonstrated the phenotypic heterogeneity of vascular endothelial cells (ECs) within a vascular bed; however, little is known about how distinct endothelial subpopulations in a particular organ respond to an inflammatory stimulus. We performed single-cell RNA-Seq of 35,973 lung ECs obtained during baseline as well as postinjury time points after inflammatory lung injury induced by LPS. Seurat clustering and gene expression pathway analysis identified 2 major subpopulations in the lung microvascular endothelium, a subpopulation enriched for expression of immune response genes such as MHC genes (immuneEC) and another defined by increased expression of vascular development genes such as Sox17 (devEC). The presence of immuneEC and devEC subpopulations was also observed in nonhuman primate lungs infected with SARS-CoV-2 and murine lungs infected with H1N1 influenza virus. After the peak of inflammatory injury, we observed the emergence of a proliferative lung EC subpopulation. Overexpression of Sox17 prevented inflammatory activation in ECs. Thus, there appeared to be a “division of labor” within the lung microvascular endothelium in which some ECs showed propensity for inflammatory signaling and others for endothelial regeneration. These results provide underpinnings for the development of targeted therapies to limit inflammatory lung injury and promote regeneration.
Lianghui Zhang, Shang Gao, Zachary White, Yang Dai, Asrar B. Malik, Jalees Rehman