Heng Xu, Zhu Zhu, Jian Hu, Jiawei Sun, Yan Wo, Xianshu Wang, Hongzhi Zou, Bin Li, Yixin Zhang

Published in Cellular & Molecular Immunology

Keloids are an abnormal fibroproliferative wound-healing disease with a poorly understood pathogenesis, making it difficult to predict and prevent this disease in clinical settings. Identifying disease-specific signatures at the molecular and cellular levels in both the blood circulation and primary lesions is urgently needed to develop novel biomarkers for risk assessment and therapeutic targets for recurrence-free treatment. There is mounting evidence of immune cell dysregulation in keloid scarring. In this study, we aimed to profile keloid scar tissues and blood cells and found that downregulation of cytotoxic CD8+ T cells is a keloid signature in the peripheral blood and keloid lesions. Single-cell RNA sequencing revealed that the NKG2A/CD94 complex was specifically upregulated, which might contribute to the significant reduction in CTLs within the scar tissue boundary. In addition, the NKG2A/ CD94 complex was associated with high serum levels of soluble human leukocyte antigen-E (sHLA-E). We subsequently measured sHLA-E in our hospital-based study cohort, consisting of 104 keloid patients, 512 healthy donors, and 100 patients with an interfering disease. The sensitivity and specificity of sHLA-E were 83.69% (87/104) and 92.16% (564/612), respectively, and hypertrophic scars and other unrelated diseases exhibited minimal interference with the test results. Furthermore, intralesional therapy with triamcinolone combined with 5-fluorouracil drastically decreased the sHLA-E levels in keloid patients with better prognostic outcomes, while an incomplete reduction in the sHLA-E levels in patient serum was associated with higher recurrence. sHLA-E may effectively serve as a diagnostic marker for assessing the risk of keloid formation and a prognostic marker for the clinical outcomes of intralesional treatment.

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