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Linking single-cell measurements of mass, growth rate, and gene expression

By Robert J Kimmerling, Sanjay M Prakadan, Alejandro J Gupta, Nicholas L Calistri, Mark M Stevens, Selim Olcum, Nathan Cermak, Riley S Drake, Alex K Shalek, Scott Manalis

Posted 25 May 2018
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/331686 (published DOI: 10.1186/s13059-018-1576-0)

We introduce a microfluidic platform that enables single-cell mass and growth rate measurements upstream of single-cell RNA-sequencing (scRNA-seq) to generate paired single-cell biophysical and transcriptional data sets. Biophysical measurements are collected with a serial suspended microchannel resonator platform (sSMR) that utilizes automated fluidic state switching to load individual cells at fixed intervals, achieving a throughput of 120 cells per hour. Each single-cell is subsequently captured downstream for linked molecular analysis using an automated collection system. From linked measurements of a murine leukemia (L1210) and pro-B cell line (FL5.12), we identify gene expression signatures that correlate significantly with cell mass and growth rate. In particular, we find that both cell lines display a cell-cycle signature that correlates with cell mass, with early and late cell-cycle signatures significantly enriched amongst genes with negative and positive correlations with mass, respectively. FL5.12 cells also show a significant correlation between single-cell growth efficiency and a G1-S transition signature, providing additional transcriptional evidence for a phenomenon previously observed through biophysical measurements alone. Importantly, the throughput and speed of our platform allows for the characterization of phenotypes in dynamic cellular systems. As a proof-of-principle, we apply our system to characterize activated murine CD8+ T cells and uncover two unique features of CD8+ T cells as they become proliferative in response to activation: i) the level of coordination between cell cycle gene expression and cell mass increases, and ii) translation-related gene expression increases and shows a correlation with single-cell growth efficiency. Overall, our approach provides a new means of characterizing the transcriptional mechanisms of normal and dysfunctional cellular mass and growth rate regulation across a range of biological contexts.

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