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Deconvolving clinically relevant cellular immune crosstalk from bulk gene expression using CODEFACS and LIRICS

By Kun Wang, Sushant Patkar, Joo Sang Lee, E. Michael Gertz, Welles Robinson, Fiorella Schischlik, David Crawford, Alejandro A. Schäffer, Eytan Ruppin

Posted 21 Jan 2021
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2021.01.20.427515

The tumor microenvironment (TME) is a complex mixture of cell-types that interact with each other to affect tumor growth and clinical outcomes. To accelerate the discovery of such interactions, we developed CODEFACS (COnfident DEconvolution For All Cell Subsets), a deconvolution tool inferring cell-type-specific gene expression in each sample from bulk expression measurements, and LIRICS (LIgand Receptor Interactions between Cell Subsets), a supporting pipeline that analyzes the deconvolved gene expression from CODEFACS to identify clinically relevant ligand-receptor interactions between cell-types. Using 15 benchmark test datasets, we first demonstrate that CODEFACS substantially improves the ability to reconstruct cell-type-specific transcriptomes from individual bulk samples, compared to the state-of-the-art method, CIBERSORTx. Second, analyzing the TCGA, we uncover cell-cell interactions that specifically occur in TME of mismatch-repair-deficient tumors and are associated with their high response rates to anti-PD1 treatment. These results point to specific T-cell co-stimulating interactions that enhance immunotherapy responses in tumors independently of their mutation burden levels. Finally, using machine learning, we identify a subset of cell-cell interactions that predict patient response to anti-PD1 therapy in melanoma better than recently published bulk transcriptomics-based signatures. CODEFACS offers a way to study bulk cancer and normal transcriptomes at a cell type-specific resolution, complementing single-cell transcriptomics.

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