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BACKGROUND: Coronary artery disease (CAD), the leading cause of death worldwide, is influenced by both environmental and genetic factors. Although over 250 genetic risk loci have been identified through genome-wide association studies, the specific causal variants and their regulatory mechanisms are still largely unknown, particularly in disease-relevant cell types like macrophages. METHODS: We utilized single-cell RNA-seq and single-cell multiomics approaches in primary human monocyte-derived macrophages to explore the transcriptional regulatory network involved in a critical pathogenic event of coronary atherosclerosis-the formation of lipid-laden foam cells. The relative genetic contribution to CAD was assessed by partitioning disease heritability across different macrophage subpopulations. Meta-analysis of single-cell RNA-seq data sets from 38 human atherosclerotic samples was conducted to provide high-resolution cross-referencing to macrophage subpopulations in vivo. RESULTS: We identified 18 782 cis-regulatory elements by jointly profiling the gene expression and chromatin accessibility of >5000 macrophages. Integration with CAD genome-wide association study data prioritized 121 CAD-related genetic variants and 56 candidate causal genes. We showed that CAD heritability was not uniformly distributed and was particularly enriched in the gene programs of a novel CD52-hi lipid-handling macrophage subpopulation. These CD52-hi macrophages displayed significantly less lipoprotein accumulation and were also found in human atherosclerotic plaques. We investigated the cis-regulatory effect of a risk variant rs10488763 on FDX1, implicating the recruitment of AP-1 and C/EBP-β in the causal mechanisms at this locus. CONCLUSIONS: Our results provide genetic evidence of the divergent roles of macrophage subsets in atherogenesis and highlight lipid-handling macrophages as a key subpopulation through which genetic variants operate to influence disease. These findings provide an unbiased framework for functional fine-mapping of genome-wide association study results using single-cell multiomics and offer new insights into the genotype-environment interactions underlying atherosclerotic disease.

Original publication




Journal article


Circ Res

Publication Date



apoptosis, cell proliferation, fibrosis, hypoxia, macrophages