Allergic diseases often occur in combination (multimorbidity). Human blood transcriptome studies have not addressed multimorbidity. Large-scale gene expression data were combined to retrieve biomarkers and signaling pathways to disentangle allergic multimorbidity phenotypes.
Integrated transcriptomic analysis was conducted in 1,233 participants with a discovery phase using gene expression data (Human Transcriptome Array 2.0) from whole blood of 786 children from three European birth cohorts (MeDALL), and a replication phase using RNA-Seq data from an independent cohort (EVA-PR, n=447). Allergic diseases (asthma, atopic dermatitis, rhinitis) were considered as single disease or multimorbidity (at least two diseases), and compared with no disease.
Fifty genes were differentially expressed in allergic diseases. Thirty-two were not previously described in allergy. Eight genes were consistently overexpressed in all types of multimorbidity for asthma, dermatitis and rhinitis (CLC, EMR4P, IL5RA, FRRS1, HRH4, SLC29A1, SIGLEC8, IL1RL1). All genes were replicated the in EVA-PR cohort. RT-qPCR validated the overexpression of selected genes. In MeDALL, 27 genes were differentially expressed in rhinitis alone, but none was significant for asthma or dermatitis alone. The multimorbidity signature was enriched in eosinophil-associated immune response and signal transduction. Protein-protein interaction network analysis identified IL5/JAK/STAT and IL33/ST2/IRAK/TRAF as key signaling pathways in multimorbid diseases. Synergistic effect of multimorbidity on gene expression levels was found.
A signature of eight genes identifies multimorbidity for asthma, rhinitis and dermatitis. Our results have clinical and mechanistic implications, and suggest that multimorbidity should be considered differently than allergic diseases occurring alone.

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