PBMC fixation and processing for Chromium single-cell RNA sequencing

J Transl Med. 2018 Jul 17;16(1):198. doi: 10.1186/s12967-018-1578-4.


Background: Interest in single-cell transcriptomic analysis is growing rapidly, especially for profiling rare or heterogeneous populations of cells. In almost all reported works investigators have used live cells, which introduces cell stress during preparation and hinders complex study designs. Recent studies have indicated that cells fixed by denaturing fixative can be used in single-cell sequencing, however they did not usually work with most types of primary cells including immune cells.

Methods: The methanol-fixation and new processing method was introduced to preserve human peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) for single-cell RNA sequencing (scRNA-Seq) analysis on 10× Chromium platform.

Results: When methanol fixation protocol was broken up into three steps: fixation, storage and rehydration, we found that PBMC RNA was degraded during rehydration with PBS, not at cell fixation and up to 3-month storage steps. Resuspension but not rehydration in 3× saline sodium citrate (SSC) buffer instead of PBS preserved PBMC RNA integrity and prevented RNA leakage. Diluted SSC buffer did not interfere with full-length cDNA synthesis. The methanol-fixed PBMCs resuspended in 3× SSC were successfully implemented into 10× Chromium standard scRNA-seq workflows with no elevated low quality cells and cell doublets. The fixation process did not alter the single-cell transcriptional profiles and gene expression levels. Major subpopulations classified by marker genes could be identified in fixed PBMCs at a similar proportion as in live PBMCs. This new fixation processing protocol also worked in several other fixed primary cell types and cell lines as in live ones.

Conclusions: We expect that the methanol-based cell fixation procedure presented here will allow better and more effective batching schemes for a complex single cell experimental design with primary cells or tissues.

Keywords: Chromium; Droplet-based single-cell RNA-Seq; Fixation; Methanol; PBMC; Primary cells; SSC.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Buffers
  • Chromium / chemistry*
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Humans
  • Leukocytes, Mononuclear / metabolism*
  • Sequence Analysis, RNA / methods*
  • Single-Cell Analysis / methods*
  • Transcription, Genetic


  • Buffers
  • Chromium