Bringing Renal Biopsy Interpretation Into the Molecular Age With Single-Cell RNA Sequencing

Semin Nephrol. 2018 Jan;38(1):31-39. doi: 10.1016/j.semnephrol.2017.09.005.


The renal biopsy provides critical diagnostic and prognostic information to clinicians including cases of acute kidney injury, chronic kidney disease, and allograft dysfunction. Today, biopsy specimens are read using a combination of light microscopy, electron microscopy, and indirect immunofluorescence, with a limited number of antibodies. These techniques all were perfected decades ago with only incremental changes since then. By contrast, recent advances in single-cell genomics are transforming scientists' ability to characterize cells. Rather than measure the expression of several genes at a time by immunofluorescence, it now is possible to measure the expression of thousands of genes in thousands of single cells simultaneously. Here, we argue that the development of single-cell RNA sequencing offers an opportunity to describe human kidney disease comprehensively at a cellular level. It is particularly well suited for the analysis of immune cells, which are characterized by multiple subtypes and changing functions depending on their environment. In this review, we summarize the development of single-cell RNA sequencing methodologies. We discuss how these approaches are being applied in other organs, and the potential for this powerful technology to transform our understanding of kidney disease once applied to the renal biopsy.

Keywords: RNA sequencing; biopsy; informatics; microfluidics.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biopsy*
  • Humans
  • Kidney / pathology*
  • Kidney Transplantation
  • Microfluidic Analytical Techniques
  • Sequence Analysis, RNA / methods*
  • Translational Research, Biomedical