MICRO-GO study: transcriptional profiling of orbital tissues in Graves’ orbitopathy & microbiome composition
Background: Graves’ disease (GD) and Graves’ orbitopathy (GO) result from ongoing stimulation of the TSH receptor due to autoantibodies acting as persistent agonists. Orbital pre-adipocytes and fibroblasts also express the TSH receptor, resulting in expanded retro-orbital tissue and causing exophthalmos and limited eye movement. Recent studies have shown that GD/GO patients have a disturbed gut microbiome composition, which has been associated with increased intestinal permeability. We hypothesize that enhanced intestinal permeability may aggravate orbital inflammation and, thus, increase myofibroblast differentiation and the degree of fibrosis. Methods: We used 2 distinct cohorts of GO patients to study intestinal permeability and its connection to inflammatory/fibrotic processes in the orbital tissues of GO patients. Intestinal permeability was assessed by measuring serum lipopolysaccharide-binding protein (LBP), zonulin, TLR5, and TLR9 ligands. The influx of macrophages and accumulation of T-cells and myofibroblast were quantified in orbital connective tissue. The NanoString digital spatial profiler RNA panel was used to determine the transcriptional profile of active fibrotic areas within orbital sections. Results: GO patients displayed significantly higher LBP serum concentrations than healthy controls. Within the MicroGO cohort, patients with high serum LBP levels also showed higher levels of zonulin and TLR5 and TLR9 ligands in their circulation. The increased intestinal permeability was accompanied by augmented expression of genes marking immune cell infiltration and encoding key proteins for immune cell adhesion, antigen presentation, and cytokine signaling in the orbital tissue. Macrophage influx was positively linked to the extent of T cell influx and fibroblast activation within GO-affected orbital tissues. Moreover, serum LBP levels significantly correlated with the abundance of specific Gram-negative gut bacteria, linking the gut to local orbital inflammation. Conclusion: These results indicate that GO patients have enhanced intestinal permeability. The subsequent translocation of bacterial compounds to the systemic circulation may aggravate inflammatory processes within the orbital tissue and, as a consequence, augment the proportion of activated myofibroblasts, which actively secrete extracellular matrix leading to retro-orbital tissue expansion. Here, we share our data on fecal microbiota composition (assessed by 16S rRNA sequencing) and the transcriptional data obtaining with the GeoMx digital spatial profiling technology.