Discriminative feature of cells characterizes cell populations of interest by a small subset of genes

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Organisms are composed of various cell types with specific states. To obtain a comprehensive understanding of the functions of organs and tissues, cell types have been classified and defined by identifying specific marker genes. Statistical tests are critical for identifying marker genes, which often involve evaluating differences in the mean expression levels of genes. Differentially expressed gene (DEG)-based analysis has been the most frequently used method of this kind. However, in association with increases in sample size such as in single-cell analysis, DEG-based analysis has faced difficulties associated with the inflation of P-values. Here, we propose the concept of discriminative feature of cells (DFC), an alternative to using DEG-based approaches. We implemented DFC using logistic regression with an adaptive LASSO penalty to perform binary classification for discriminating a population of interest and variable selection to obtain a small subset of defining genes. We demonstrated that DFC prioritized gene pairs with non-independent expression using artificial data and that DFC enabled characterization of the muscle satellite/progenitor cell population. The results revealed that DFC well captured cell-type-specific markers, specific gene expression patterns, and subcategories of this cell population. DFC may complement DEGbased methods for interpreting large data sets. DEG-based analysis uses lists of genes with differences in expression between groups, while DFC, which can be termed a discriminative approach, has potential applications in the task of cell characterization. Upon recent advances in the high-throughput analysis of single cells, methods of cell characterization such as scRNA-seq can be effectively subjected to the discriminative methods.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1009579
JournalPLoS Computational Biology
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Genetics
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Molecular Biology
  • Ecology
  • Computational Theory and Mathematics
  • Modelling and Simulation


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