Background: Intra-tumoral genetic and functional heterogeneity correlates with cancer clinical prognoses. However, the mechanisms by which intra-tumoral heterogeneity impacts therapeutic outcome remain poorly understood. RNA sequencing (RNA-seq) of single tumor cells can provide comprehensive information about gene expression and single-nucleotide variations in individual tumor cells, which may allow for the translation of heterogeneous tumor cell functional responses into customized anti-cancer treatments.
Results: We isolated 34 patient-derived xenograft (PDX) tumor cells from a lung adenocarcinoma patient tumor xenograft. Individual tumor cells were subjected to single cell RNA-seq for gene expression profiling and expressed mutation profiling. Fifty tumor-specific single-nucleotide variations, including KRAS(G12D), were observed to be heterogeneous in individual PDX cells. Semi-supervised clustering, based on KRAS(G12D) mutant expression and a risk score representing expression of 69 lung adenocarcinoma-prognostic genes, classified PDX cells into four groups. PDX cells that survived in vitro anti-cancer drug treatment displayed transcriptome signatures consistent with the group characterized by KRAS(G12D) and low risk score.
Conclusions: Single-cell RNA-seq on viable PDX cells identified a candidate tumor cell subgroup associated with anti-cancer drug resistance. Thus, single-cell RNA-seq is a powerful approach for identifying unique tumor cell-specific gene expression profiles which could facilitate the development of optimized clinical anti-cancer strategies.