scTEM-seq: Single-cell analysis of transposable element methylation to link global epigenetic heterogeneity with transcriptional programs

Sci Rep. 2022 Apr 6;12(1):5776. doi: 10.1038/s41598-022-09765-x.


Global changes in DNA methylation are observed in development and disease, and single-cell analyses are highlighting the heterogeneous regulation of these processes. However, technical challenges associated with single-cell analysis of DNA methylation limit these studies. We present single-cell transposable element methylation sequencing (scTEM-seq) for cost-effective estimation of average DNA methylation levels. By targeting high-copy SINE Alu elements, we achieve amplicon bisulphite sequencing with thousands of loci covered in each scTEM-seq library. Parallel transcriptome analysis is also performed to link global DNA methylation estimates with gene expression. We apply scTEM-seq to KG1a acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) cells, and primary AML cells. Our method reveals global DNA methylation heterogeneity induced by decitabine treatment of KG1a cells associated with altered expression of immune process genes. We also compare global DNA methylation estimates to expression of transposable elements and find a predominance of negative correlations. Finally, we observe co-ordinated upregulation of many transposable elements in a sub-set of decitabine treated cells. By linking global DNA methylation heterogeneity with transcription, scTEM-seq will refine our understanding of epigenetic regulation in cancer and beyond.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • DNA Methylation
  • DNA Transposable Elements* / genetics
  • Decitabine / pharmacology
  • Epigenesis, Genetic
  • Humans
  • Leukemia, Myeloid, Acute* / genetics
  • Single-Cell Analysis


  • DNA Transposable Elements
  • Decitabine