Estimating and Correcting for Off-Target Cellular Contamination in Brain Cell Type Specific RNA-Seq Data

Front Mol Neurosci. 2021 Mar 3;14:637143. doi: 10.3389/fnmol.2021.637143. eCollection 2021.


Transcriptionally profiling minor cellular populations remains an ongoing challenge in molecular genomics. Single-cell RNA sequencing has provided valuable insights into a number of hypotheses, but practical and analytical challenges have limited its widespread adoption. A similar approach, which we term single-cell type RNA sequencing (sctRNA-seq), involves the enrichment and sequencing of a pool of cells, yielding cell type-level resolution transcriptomes. While this approach offers benefits in terms of mRNA sampling from targeted cell types, it is potentially affected by off-target contamination from surrounding cell types. Here, we leveraged single-cell sequencing datasets to apply a computational approach for estimating and controlling the amount of off-target cell type contamination in sctRNA-seq datasets. In datasets obtained using a number of technologies for cell purification, we found that most sctRNA-seq datasets tended to show some amount of off-target mRNA contamination from surrounding cells. However, using covariates for cellular contamination in downstream differential expression analyses increased the quality of our models for differential expression analysis in case/control comparisons and typically resulted in the discovery of more differentially expressed genes. In general, our method provides a flexible approach for detecting and controlling off-target cell type contamination in sctRNA-seq datasets.

Keywords: LCM-seq; RNA-seq; TRAP-seq; brain; contamination; single cell.