GNN-based embedding for clustering scRNA-seq data

Bioinformatics. 2021 Nov 19;btab787. doi: 10.1093/bioinformatics/btab787. Online ahead of print.


Motivation: Single-cell RNA sequencing (scRNA-seq) provides transcriptomic profiling for individual cells, allowing researchers to study the heterogeneity of tissues, recognize rare cell identities and discover new cellular subtypes. Clustering analysis is usually used to predict cell class assignments and infer cell identities. However, the high sparsity of scRNA-seq data, accentuated by dropout events generates challenges that have motivated the development of numerous dedicated clustering methods. Nevertheless, there is still no consensus on the best performing method.

Results: graph-sc is a new method leveraging a graph autoencoder network to create embeddings for scRNA-seq cell data. While this work analyzes the performance of clustering the embeddings with various clustering algorithms, other downstream tasks can also be performed. A broad experimental study has been performed on both simulated and scRNA-seq datasets. The results indicate that although there is no consistently best method across all the analyzed datasets, graph-sc compares favorably to competing techniques across all types of datasets. Furthermore, the proposed method is stable across consecutive runs, robust to input down-sampling, generally insensitive to changes in the network architecture or training parameters and more computationally efficient than other competing methods based on neural networks. Modeling the data as a graph provides increased flexibility to define custom features characterizing the genes, the cells and their interactions. Moreover, external data (e.g. gene network) can easily be integrated into the graph and used seamlessly under the same optimization task.

Availability and implementation:

Supplementary information: Supplementary data are available at Bioinformatics online.