Identifying cell types from single-cell data based on similarities and dissimilarities between cells

BMC Bioinformatics. 2021 May 18;22(Suppl 3):255. doi: 10.1186/s12859-020-03873-z.


Background: With the development of the technology of single-cell sequence, revealing homogeneity and heterogeneity between cells has become a new area of computational systems biology research. However, the clustering of cell types becomes more complex with the mutual penetration between different types of cells and the instability of gene expression. One way of overcoming this problem is to group similar, related single cells together by the means of various clustering analysis methods. Although some methods such as spectral clustering can do well in the identification of cell types, they only consider the similarities between cells and ignore the influence of dissimilarities on clustering results. This methodology may limit the performance of most of the conventional clustering algorithms for the identification of clusters, it needs to develop special methods for high-dimensional sparse categorical data.

Results: Inspired by the phenomenon that same type cells have similar gene expression patterns, but different types of cells evoke dissimilar gene expression patterns, we improve the existing spectral clustering method for clustering single-cell data that is based on both similarities and dissimilarities between cells. The method first measures the similarity/dissimilarity among cells, then constructs the incidence matrix by fusing similarity matrix with dissimilarity matrix, and, finally, uses the eigenvalues of the incidence matrix to perform dimensionality reduction and employs the K-means algorithm in the low dimensional space to achieve clustering. The proposed improved spectral clustering method is compared with the conventional spectral clustering method in recognizing cell types on several real single-cell RNA-seq datasets.

Conclusions: In summary, we show that adding intercellular dissimilarity can effectively improve accuracy and achieve robustness and that improved spectral clustering method outperforms the traditional spectral clustering method in grouping cells.

Keywords: Cell types identification; Similarity/dissimilarity matrix; Single-cell data; Spectral clustering.

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms*
  • Cluster Analysis
  • RNA-Seq