Characterization of cell fate probabilities in single-cell data with Palantir

Nat Biotechnol. 2019 Apr;37(4):451-460. doi: 10.1038/s41587-019-0068-4. Epub 2019 Mar 21.


Single-cell RNA sequencing studies of differentiating systems have raised fundamental questions regarding the discrete versus continuous nature of both differentiation and cell fate. Here we present Palantir, an algorithm that models trajectories of differentiating cells by treating cell fate as a probabilistic process and leverages entropy to measure cell plasticity along the trajectory. Palantir generates a high-resolution pseudo-time ordering of cells and, for each cell state, assigns a probability of differentiating into each terminal state. We apply our algorithm to human bone marrow single-cell RNA sequencing data and detect important landmarks of hematopoietic differentiation. Palantir's resolution enables the identification of key transcription factors that drive lineage fate choice and closely track when cells lose plasticity. We show that Palantir outperforms existing algorithms in identifying cell lineages and recapitulating gene expression trends during differentiation, is generalizable to diverse tissue types, and is well-suited to resolving less-studied differentiating systems.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms*
  • Animals
  • Biotechnology
  • Bone Marrow Cells / cytology
  • Bone Marrow Cells / metabolism
  • Cell Differentiation / genetics*
  • Cell Lineage / genetics*
  • Erythropoiesis / genetics
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental
  • Hematopoiesis / genetics
  • Humans
  • Markov Chains
  • Mice
  • Models, Biological
  • Models, Statistical
  • Sequence Analysis, RNA / statistics & numerical data*
  • Single-Cell Analysis / statistics & numerical data*