Transcriptome-wide analysis in cells and tissues

University dissertation from Stockholm : KTH Royal Institute of Technology

Abstract: High-throughput sequencing has greatly influenced the amount of data produced and biological questions asked and answered. Sequencing approaches have also enabled rapid development of related technological fields such as single-cell and spatially resolved expression profiling. The introductory parts of this thesis give an overview of the basic molecular and technological apparatus needed to analyse the transcriptome in cells and tissues. This is succeeded by a summary of present investigations that report recent advancements in RNA profiling.RNA integrity needs to be preserved for accurate gene expression analysis. A method providing a low-cost alternative for RNA preservation was reported. Namely, a low concentration of buffered formaldehyde was used for fixation of human cell lines and peripheral blood cells (Paper I). The results from bulk RNA sequencing confirmed gene expression was not negatively impacted with the preservation procedure (r2>0.88) and that long-term storage of such samples was possible (r2=0.95). However, it is important to note that a small population of cells overexpressing a limited amount of genes can skew bulk gene expression analyses making them sufficient only in carefully designed studies. Therefore, gene expression should be investigated at the single cell resolution when possible. A method for high-throughput single cell expression profiling termed microarrayed single-cell sequencing was developed (Paper II). The method incorporated fluorescence-activated cell sorting, sample deposition and profiling of thousands of barcoded single cells in one reaction. After sample attachment to a barcoded array, a high-resolution image was taken which linked the position of each array barcode sequence to each individual deposited cell. The cDNA synthesis efficiency was estimated at 17.3% while detecting 27,427 transcripts per cell on average. Additionally, spatially resolved analysis is important in cell differentiation, organ development and pathological changes. Current methods are limited in terms of throughput, cost and time. For that reason, the spatial transcriptomics method was developed (Paper III). Here, the barcoded microarray was used to obtain spatially resolved expression profiles from tissue sections using the same imaging principle. The mouse olfactory bulb was profiled on a whole-transcriptome scale and the results showed that the expression correlated well (r2=0.94-0.97) as compared to bulk RNA sequencing. The method was 6.9% efficient, reported signal diffusion at ~2 μm and accurately deconvoluted layer-specific transcripts in an unbiased manner. Lastly, the spatial transcriptomics concept was applied to profile human breast tumours in three dimensions (Paper IV). Unbiased clustering revealed previously un-annotated regions and classified them as parts of the immune system, providing a detailed view into complex interactions and crosstalk in the whole tissue volume. Spatial tumour classification divulged that certain parts of the tumour clearly classified as other subtypes as compared to bulk analysis providing useful data for current practice diagnostics.The last part of the thesis discusses a look towards the future, how the presented methods could be used, improved upon or combined in translational research.