Exploring tissue architecture using spatial transcriptomics

Nature. 2021 Aug;596(7871):211-220. doi: 10.1038/s41586-021-03634-9. Epub 2021 Aug 11.


Deciphering the principles and mechanisms by which gene activity orchestrates complex cellular arrangements in multicellular organisms has far-reaching implications for research in the life sciences. Recent technological advances in next-generation sequencing- and imaging-based approaches have established the power of spatial transcriptomics to measure expression levels of all or most genes systematically throughout tissue space, and have been adopted to generate biological insights in neuroscience, development and plant biology as well as to investigate a range of disease contexts, including cancer. Similar to datasets made possible by genomic sequencing and population health surveys, the large-scale atlases generated by this technology lend themselves to exploratory data analysis for hypothesis generation. Here we review spatial transcriptomic technologies and describe the repertoire of operations available for paths of analysis of the resulting data. Spatial transcriptomics can also be deployed for hypothesis testing using experimental designs that compare time points or conditions-including genetic or environmental perturbations. Finally, spatial transcriptomic data are naturally amenable to integration with other data modalities, providing an expandable framework for insight into tissue organization.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Data Analysis
  • Disease / genetics
  • Gene Expression Profiling / methods*
  • Humans
  • Organ Specificity / genetics*
  • Transcription, Genetic / genetics
  • Transcriptome*