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Title: Optimal marker gene selection for cell type discrimination in single cell analyses

Single-cell technologies characterize complex cell populations across multiple data modalities at unprecedented scale and resolution. Multi-omic data for single cell gene expression, in situ hybridization, or single cell chromatin states are increasingly available across diverse tissue types. When isolating specific cell types from a sample of disassociated cells or performing in situ sequencing in collections of heterogeneous cells, one challenging task is to select a small set of informative markers that robustly enable the identification and discrimination of specific cell types or cell states as precisely as possible. Given single cell RNA-seq data and a set of cellular labels to discriminate, scGeneFit selects gene markers that jointly optimize cell label recovery using label-aware compressive classification methods. This results in a substantially more robust and less redundant set of markers than existing methods, most of which identify markers that separate each cell label from the rest. When applied to a data set given a hierarchy of cell types as labels, the markers found by our method improves the recovery of the cell type hierarchy with fewer markers than existing methods using a computationally efficient and principled optimization.

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Award ID(s):
2031985 2044349 1829955 1750729
Publication Date:
Journal Name:
Nature Communications
Nature Publishing Group
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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  1. Obeid, I. (Ed.)
    The Neural Engineering Data Consortium (NEDC) is developing the Temple University Digital Pathology Corpus (TUDP), an open source database of high-resolution images from scanned pathology samples [1], as part of its National Science Foundation-funded Major Research Instrumentation grant titled “MRI: High Performance Digital Pathology Using Big Data and Machine Learning” [2]. The long-term goal of this project is to release one million images. We have currently scanned over 100,000 images and are in the process of annotating breast tissue data for our first official corpus release, v1.0.0. This release contains 3,505 annotated images of breast tissue including 74 patients with cancerous diagnoses (out of a total of 296 patients). In this poster, we will present an analysis of this corpus and discuss the challenges we have faced in efficiently producing high quality annotations of breast tissue. It is well known that state of the art algorithms in machine learning require vast amounts of data. Fields such as speech recognition [3], image recognition [4] and text processing [5] are able to deliver impressive performance with complex deep learning models because they have developed large corpora to support training of extremely high-dimensional models (e.g., billions of parameters). Other fields that do notmore »have access to such data resources must rely on techniques in which existing models can be adapted to new datasets [6]. A preliminary version of this breast corpus release was tested in a pilot study using a baseline machine learning system, ResNet18 [7], that leverages several open-source Python tools. The pilot corpus was divided into three sets: train, development, and evaluation. Portions of these slides were manually annotated [1] using the nine labels in Table 1 [8] to identify five to ten examples of pathological features on each slide. Not every pathological feature is annotated, meaning excluded areas can include focuses particular to these labels that are not used for training. A summary of the number of patches within each label is given in Table 2. To maintain a balanced training set, 1,000 patches of each label were used to train the machine learning model. Throughout all sets, only annotated patches were involved in model development. The performance of this model in identifying all the patches in the evaluation set can be seen in the confusion matrix of classification accuracy in Table 3. The highest performing labels were background, 97% correct identification, and artifact, 76% correct identification. A correlation exists between labels with more than 6,000 development patches and accurate performance on the evaluation set. Additionally, these results indicated a need to further refine the annotation of invasive ductal carcinoma (“indc”), inflammation (“infl”), nonneoplastic features (“nneo”), normal (“norm”) and suspicious (“susp”). This pilot experiment motivated changes to the corpus that will be discussed in detail in this poster presentation. To increase the accuracy of the machine learning model, we modified how we addressed underperforming labels. One common source of error arose with how non-background labels were converted into patches. Large areas of background within other labels were isolated within a patch resulting in connective tissue misrepresenting a non-background label. In response, the annotation overlay margins were revised to exclude benign connective tissue in non-background labels. Corresponding patient reports and supporting immunohistochemical stains further guided annotation reviews. The microscopic diagnoses given by the primary pathologist in these reports detail the pathological findings within each tissue site, but not within each specific slide. The microscopic diagnoses informed revisions specifically targeting annotated regions classified as cancerous, ensuring that the labels “indc” and “dcis” were used only in situations where a micropathologist diagnosed it as such. Further differentiation of cancerous and precancerous labels, as well as the location of their focus on a slide, could be accomplished with supplemental immunohistochemically (IHC) stained slides. When distinguishing whether a focus is a nonneoplastic feature versus a cancerous growth, pathologists employ antigen targeting stains to the tissue in question to confirm the diagnosis. For example, a nonneoplastic feature of usual ductal hyperplasia will display diffuse staining for cytokeratin 5 (CK5) and no diffuse staining for estrogen receptor (ER), while a cancerous growth of ductal carcinoma in situ will have negative or focally positive staining for CK5 and diffuse staining for ER [9]. Many tissue samples contain cancerous and non-cancerous features with morphological overlaps that cause variability between annotators. The informative fields IHC slides provide could play an integral role in machine model pathology diagnostics. Following the revisions made on all the annotations, a second experiment was run using ResNet18. Compared to the pilot study, an increase of model prediction accuracy was seen for the labels indc, infl, nneo, norm, and null. This increase is correlated with an increase in annotated area and annotation accuracy. Model performance in identifying the suspicious label decreased by 25% due to the decrease of 57% in the total annotated area described by this label. A summary of the model performance is given in Table 4, which shows the new prediction accuracy and the absolute change in error rate compared to Table 3. The breast tissue subset we are developing includes 3,505 annotated breast pathology slides from 296 patients. The average size of a scanned SVS file is 363 MB. The annotations are stored in an XML format. A CSV version of the annotation file is also available which provides a flat, or simple, annotation that is easy for machine learning researchers to access and interface to their systems. Each patient is identified by an anonymized medical reference number. Within each patient’s directory, one or more sessions are identified, also anonymized to the first of the month in which the sample was taken. These sessions are broken into groupings of tissue taken on that date (in this case, breast tissue). A deidentified patient report stored as a flat text file is also available. Within these slides there are a total of 16,971 total annotated regions with an average of 4.84 annotations per slide. Among those annotations, 8,035 are non-cancerous (normal, background, null, and artifact,) 6,222 are carcinogenic signs (inflammation, nonneoplastic and suspicious,) and 2,714 are cancerous labels (ductal carcinoma in situ and invasive ductal carcinoma in situ.) The individual patients are split up into three sets: train, development, and evaluation. Of the 74 cancerous patients, 20 were allotted for both the development and evaluation sets, while the remain 34 were allotted for train. The remaining 222 patients were split up to preserve the overall distribution of labels within the corpus. This was done in hope of creating control sets for comparable studies. Overall, the development and evaluation sets each have 80 patients, while the training set has 136 patients. In a related component of this project, slides from the Fox Chase Cancer Center (FCCC) Biosample Repository ( -facility) are being digitized in addition to slides provided by Temple University Hospital. This data includes 18 different types of tissue including approximately 38.5% urinary tissue and 16.5% gynecological tissue. These slides and the metadata provided with them are already anonymized and include diagnoses in a spreadsheet with sample and patient ID. We plan to release over 13,000 unannotated slides from the FCCC Corpus simultaneously with v1.0.0 of TUDP. Details of this release will also be discussed in this poster. Few digitally annotated databases of pathology samples like TUDP exist due to the extensive data collection and processing required. The breast corpus subset should be released by November 2021. By December 2021 we should also release the unannotated FCCC data. We are currently annotating urinary tract data as well. We expect to release about 5,600 processed TUH slides in this subset. We have an additional 53,000 unprocessed TUH slides digitized. Corpora of this size will stimulate the development of a new generation of deep learning technology. In clinical settings where resources are limited, an assistive diagnoses model could support pathologists’ workload and even help prioritize suspected cancerous cases. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS This material is supported by the National Science Foundation under grants nos. CNS-1726188 and 1925494. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. REFERENCES [1] N. Shawki et al., “The Temple University Digital Pathology Corpus,” in Signal Processing in Medicine and Biology: Emerging Trends in Research and Applications, 1st ed., I. Obeid, I. Selesnick, and J. Picone, Eds. New York City, New York, USA: Springer, 2020, pp. 67 104. [2] J. Picone, T. Farkas, I. Obeid, and Y. Persidsky, “MRI: High Performance Digital Pathology Using Big Data and Machine Learning.” Major Research Instrumentation (MRI), Division of Computer and Network Systems, Award No. 1726188, January 1, 2018 – December 31, 2021. https://www. [3] A. Gulati et al., “Conformer: Convolution-augmented Transformer for Speech Recognition,” in Proceedings of the Annual Conference of the International Speech Communication Association (INTERSPEECH), 2020, pp. 5036-5040. [4] C.-J. Wu et al., “Machine Learning at Facebook: Understanding Inference at the Edge,” in Proceedings of the IEEE International Symposium on High Performance Computer Architecture (HPCA), 2019, pp. 331–344. [5] I. Caswell and B. Liang, “Recent Advances in Google Translate,” Google AI Blog: The latest from Google Research, 2020. [Online]. Available: [Accessed: 01-Aug-2021]. [6] V. Khalkhali, N. Shawki, V. Shah, M. Golmohammadi, I. Obeid, and J. Picone, “Low Latency Real-Time Seizure Detection Using Transfer Deep Learning,” in Proceedings of the IEEE Signal Processing in Medicine and Biology Symposium (SPMB), 2021, pp. 1 7. https://www.isip. [7] J. Picone, T. Farkas, I. Obeid, and Y. Persidsky, “MRI: High Performance Digital Pathology Using Big Data and Machine Learning,” Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA, 2020. [8] I. Hunt, S. Husain, J. Simons, I. Obeid, and J. Picone, “Recent Advances in the Temple University Digital Pathology Corpus,” in Proceedings of the IEEE Signal Processing in Medicine and Biology Symposium (SPMB), 2019, pp. 1–4. [9] A. P. Martinez, C. Cohen, K. Z. Hanley, and X. (Bill) Li, “Estrogen Receptor and Cytokeratin 5 Are Reliable Markers to Separate Usual Ductal Hyperplasia From Atypical Ductal Hyperplasia and Low-Grade Ductal Carcinoma In Situ,” Arch. Pathol. Lab. Med., vol. 140, no. 7, pp. 686–689, Apr. 2016.« less
  2. Abstract

    The development of single-cell RNA-sequencing (scRNA-seq) technologies has offered insights into complex biological systems at the single-cell resolution. In particular, these techniques facilitate the identifications of genes showing cell-type-specific differential expressions (DE). In this paper, we introduce MARBLES, a novel statistical model for cross-condition DE gene detection from scRNA-seq data. MARBLES employs a Markov Random Field model to borrow information across similar cell types and utilizes cell-type-specific pseudobulk count to account for sample-level variability. Our simulation results showed that MARBLES is more powerful than existing methods to detect DE genes with an appropriate control of false positive rate. Applications of MARBLES to real data identified novel disease-related DE genes and biological pathways from both a single-cell lipopolysaccharide mouse dataset with 24 381 cells and 11 076 genes and a Parkinson’s disease human data set with 76 212 cells and 15 891 genes. Overall, MARBLES is a powerful tool to identify cell-type-specific DE genes across conditions from scRNA-seq data.

  3. Abstract

    We present Bisque, a tool for estimating cell type proportions in bulk expression. Bisque implements a regression-based approach that utilizes single-cell RNA-seq (scRNA-seq) or single-nucleus RNA-seq (snRNA-seq) data to generate a reference expression profile and learn gene-specific bulk expression transformations to robustly decompose RNA-seq data. These transformations significantly improve decomposition performance compared to existing methods when there is significant technical variation in the generation of the reference profile and observed bulk expression. Importantly, compared to existing methods, our approach is extremely efficient, making it suitable for the analysis of large genomic datasets that are becoming ubiquitous. When applied to subcutaneous adipose and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex expression datasets with both bulk RNA-seq and snRNA-seq data, Bisque replicates previously reported associations between cell type proportions and measured phenotypes across abundant and rare cell types. We further propose an additional mode of operation that merely requires a set of known marker genes.

  4. Abstract Background

    Emerging RNA viruses that target the central nervous system (CNS) lead to cognitive sequelae in survivors. Studies in humans and mice infected with West Nile virus (WNV), a re-emerging RNA virus associated with learning and memory deficits, revealed microglial-mediated synapse elimination within the hippocampus. Moreover, CNS-resident memory T (TRM) cells activate microglia, limiting synapse recovery and inducing spatial learning defects in WNV-recovered mice. The signals involved in T cell-microglia interactions are unknown.


    Here, we examined immune cells within the murine WNV-recovered forebrain using single-cell RNA sequencing to identify putative ligand-receptor pairs involved in intercellular communication between T cells and microglia. Clustering and differential gene analyses were followed by protein validation and genetic and antibody-based approaches utilizing an established murine model of WNV recovery in which microglia and complement promote ongoing hippocampal synaptic loss.


    Profiling of host transcriptome immune cells at 25 days post-infection in mice revealed a shift in forebrain homeostatic microglia to activated subpopulations with transcriptional signatures that have previously been observed in studies of neurodegenerative diseases. Importantly, CXCL16/CXCR6, a chemokine signaling pathway involved in TRM cell biology, was identified as critically regulating CXCR6 expressing CD8+TRM cell numbers within the WNV-recovered forebrain. We demonstrate that CXCL16 is highlymore »expressed by all myeloid cells, and its unique receptor, CXCR6, is highly expressed on all CD8+T cells. Using genetic and pharmacological approaches, we demonstrate that CXCL16/CXCR6 not only is required for the maintenance of WNV-specific CD8 TRM cells in the post-infectious CNS, but also contributes to their expression of TRM cell markers. Moreover, CXCR6+CD8+T cells are required for glial activation and ongoing synapse elimination.


    We provide a comprehensive assessment of the role of CXCL16/CXCR6 as an interaction link between microglia and CD8+T cells that maintains forebrain TRM cells, microglial and astrocyte activation, and ongoing synapse elimination in virally recovered animals. We also show that therapeutic targeting of CXCL16 in mice during recovery may reduce CNS CD8+TRM cells.

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  5. Abstract Background

    There are a wide range of developmental strategies in animal phyla, but most insights into adult body plan formation come from direct-developing species. For indirect-developing species, there are distinct larval and adult body plans that are linked together by metamorphosis. Some outstanding questions in the development of indirect-developing organisms include the extent to which larval tissue undergoes cell death during the process of metamorphosis and when and where the tissue that will give rise to the adult originates. How do the processes of cell division and cell death redesign the body plans of indirect developers? In this study, we present patterns of cell proliferation and cell death during larval body plan development, metamorphosis, and adult body plan formation, in the hemichordateSchizocardium californium(Cameron and Perez in Zootaxa 3569:79–88, 2012) to answer these questions.


    We identified distinct patterns of cell proliferation between larval and adult body plan formation ofS. californicum. We found that some adult tissues proliferate during the late larval phase prior to the start of overt metamorphosis. In addition, using an irradiation and transcriptomic approach, we describe a genetic signature of proliferative cells that is shared across the life history states, as well as markers that are unique tomore »larval or juvenile states. Finally, we observed that cell death is minimal in larval stages but begins with the onset of metamorphosis.


    Cell proliferation during the development ofS. californicumhas distinct patterns in the formation of larval and adult body plans. However, cell death is very limited in larvae and begins during the onset of metamorphosis and into early juvenile development in specific domains. The populations of cells that proliferated and gave rise to the larvae and juveniles have a genetic signature that suggested a heterogeneous pool of proliferative progenitors, rather than a set-aside population of pluripotent cells. Taken together, we propose that the gradual morphological transformation ofS. californicumis mirrored at the cellular level and may be more representative of the development strategies that characterize metamorphosis in many metazoan animals.

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