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Single Cell Proteomics Microchip to Profile Immune Function, with Applications in Stem Cell Biology, Translational Disease Mechanism Study and Clinical Therapeutics Monitoring


Ma, Chao (2013) Single Cell Proteomics Microchip to Profile Immune Function, with Applications in Stem Cell Biology, Translational Disease Mechanism Study and Clinical Therapeutics Monitoring. Dissertation (Ph.D.), California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/2M7E-0P25.


In response to infection or tissue dysfunction, immune cells develop into highly heterogeneous repertoires with diverse functions. Capturing the full spectrum of these functions requires analysis of large numbers of effector molecules from single cells. However, currently only 3-5 functional proteins can be measured from single cells. We developed a single cell functional proteomics approach that integrates a microchip platform with multiplex cell purification. This approach can quantitate 20 proteins from >5,000 phenotypically pure single cells simultaneously. With a 1-million fold miniaturization, the system can detect down to ~100 molecules and requires only ~104 cells. Single cell functional proteomic analysis finds broad applications in basic, translational and clinical studies. In the three studies conducted, it yielded critical insights for understanding clinical cancer immunotherapy, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) mechanism and hematopoietic stem cell (HSC) biology.

To study phenotypically defined cell populations, single cell barcode microchips were coupled with upstream multiplex cell purification based on up to 11 parameters. Statistical algorithms were developed to process and model the high dimensional readouts. This analysis evaluates rare cells and is versatile for various cells and proteins. (1) We conducted an immune monitoring study of a phase 2 cancer cellular immunotherapy clinical trial that used T-cell receptor (TCR) transgenic T cells as major therapeutics to treat metastatic melanoma. We evaluated the functional proteome of 4 antigen-specific, phenotypically defined T cell populations from peripheral blood of 3 patients across 8 time points. (2) Natural killer (NK) cells can play a protective role in chronic inflammation and their surface receptor – killer immunoglobulin-like receptor (KIR) – has been identified as a risk factor of IBD. We compared the functional behavior of NK cells that had differential KIR expressions. These NK cells were retrieved from the blood of 12 patients with different genetic backgrounds. (3) HSCs are the progenitors of immune cells and are thought to have no immediate functional capacity against pathogen. However, recent studies identified expression of Toll-like receptors (TLRs) on HSCs. We studied the functional capacity of HSCs upon TLR activation. The comparison of HSCs from wild-type mice against those from genetics knock-out mouse models elucidates the responding signaling pathway.

In all three cases, we observed profound functional heterogeneity within phenotypically defined cells. Polyfunctional cells that conduct multiple functions also produce those proteins in large amounts. They dominate the immune response. In the cancer immunotherapy, the strong cytotoxic and antitumor functions from transgenic TCR T cells contributed to a ~30% tumor reduction immediately after the therapy. However, this infused immune response disappeared within 2-3 weeks. Later on, some patients gained a second antitumor response, consisted of the emergence of endogenous antitumor cytotoxic T cells and their production of multiple antitumor functions. These patients showed more effective long-term tumor control. In the IBD mechanism study, we noticed that, compared with others, NK cells expressing KIR2DL3 receptor secreted a large array of effector proteins, such as TNF-α, CCLs and CXCLs. The functions from these cells regulated disease-contributing cells and protected host tissues. Their existence correlated with IBD disease susceptibility. In the HSC study, the HSCs exhibited functional capacity by producing TNF-α, IL-6 and GM-CSF. TLR stimulation activated the NF-κB signaling in HSCs. Single cell functional proteome contains rich information that is independent from the genome and transcriptome. In all three cases, functional proteomic evaluation uncovered critical biological insights that would not be resolved otherwise. The integrated single cell functional proteomic analysis constructed a detail kinetic picture of the immune response that took place during the clinical cancer immunotherapy. It revealed concrete functional evidence that connected genetics to IBD disease susceptibility. Further, it provided predictors that correlated with clinical responses and pathogenic outcomes.

Item Type:Thesis (Dissertation (Ph.D.))
Subject Keywords:Single cell, immune assessment, functional proteomics
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Division:Physics, Mathematics and Astronomy
Major Option:Physics
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • Heath, James R.
Thesis Committee:
  • Heath, James R. (chair)
  • Goddard, William A., III
  • Pine, Jerome
  • Braun, Jonathan
Defense Date:18 January 2013
Record Number:CaltechTHESIS:03192013-100649773
Persistent URL:
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:7527
Deposited By: Chao Ma
Deposited On:12 Aug 2015 23:16
Last Modified:03 Oct 2019 23:59

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