One of the most common smoking-related diseases, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), results from a dysregulated, multi-tissue inflammatory response to cigarette smoke. We hypothesized that systemic inflammatory signals in genome-wide blood gene expression can identify clinically important COPD-related disease subtypes, and we leveraged pre-existing gene interaction networks to guide unsupervised clustering of blood microarray expression data. Using network-informed non-negative matrix factorization, we analyzed genome-wide blood gene expression from 229 former smokers in the ECLIPSE Study, and we identified novel, clinically relevant molecular subtypes of COPD. These network-informed clusters were more stable and more strongly associated with measures of lung structure and function than clusters derived from a network-naïve approach, and they were associated with subtype-specific enrichment for inflammatory and protein catabolic pathways. These clusters were successfully reproduced in an independent sample of 135 smokers from the COPDGene Study.
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