Enhancing biological signals and detection rates in single-cell RNA-seq experiments with cDNA library equalization

Nucleic Acids Res. 2021 Nov 24;gkab1071. doi: 10.1093/nar/gkab1071. Online ahead of print.


Considerable effort has been devoted to refining experimental protocols to reduce levels of technical variability and artifacts in single-cell RNA-sequencing data (scRNA-seq). We here present evidence that equalizing the concentration of cDNA libraries prior to pooling, a step not consistently performed in single-cell experiments, improves gene detection rates, enhances biological signals, and reduces technical artifacts in scRNA-seq data. To evaluate the effect of equalization on various protocols, we developed Scaffold, a simulation framework that models each step of an scRNA-seq experiment. Numerical experiments demonstrate that equalization reduces variation in sequencing depth and gene-specific expression variability. We then performed a set of experiments in vitro with and without the equalization step and found that equalization increases the number of genes that are detected in every cell by 17-31%, improves discovery of biologically relevant genes, and reduces nuisance signals associated with cell cycle. Further support is provided in an analysis of publicly available data.