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Single-Cell Transcriptomics Unveils Gene Regulatory Network Plasticity

By Giovanni Iacono, Ramon Massoni-Badosa, Holger Heyn

Posted 17 Oct 2018
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/446104 (published DOI: 10.1186/s13059-019-1713-4)

Single-cell RNA sequencing (scRNA-seq) plays a pivotal role in our understanding of cellular heterogeneity. Current analytical workflows are driven by categorizing principles that consider cells as individual entities and classify them into complex taxonomies. We have devised a conceptually different computational framework based on a holistic view, where single-cell datasets are used to infer global, large-scale regulatory networks. We developed correlation metrics that are specifically tailored to single-cell data, and then generated, validated and interpreted single-cell-derived regulatory networks from organs and perturbed systems, such as diabetes and Alzheimer's disease. Using advanced tools from graph theory, we computed an unbiased quantification of a gene's biological relevance, and accurately pinpointed key players in organ function and drivers of diseases. Our approach detected multiple latent regulatory changes that are invisible to single-cell workflows based on clustering or differential expression analysis. In summary, we have established the feasibility and value of regulatory network analysis using scRNA-seq datasets, which significantly broadens the biological insights that can be obtained with this leading technology.

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