Dynamical Systems Model of RNA Velocity Improves Inference of Single-cell Trajectory, Pseudo-time and Gene Regulation

J Mol Biol. 2022 Aug 15;434(15):167606. doi: 10.1016/j.jmb.2022.167606. Epub 2022 Apr 27.


Recent development in inferring RNA velocity from single-cell RNA-seq opens up exciting new vista into developmental lineage and cellular dynamics. However, the estimated velocity only gives a snapshot of how the transcriptome instantaneously changes in individual cells, and it does not provide quantitative predictions and insights about the whole system. In this work, we develop RNA-ODE, a principled computational framework that extends RNA velocity to quantify systems level dynamics and improve single-cell data analysis. We model the gene expression dynamics by an ordinary differential equation (ODE) based formalism. Given a snapshot of gene expression at one time, RNA-ODE is able to predict and extrapolate the expression trajectory of each cell by solving the dynamic equations. Systematic experiments on simulations and on new data from developing brain demonstrate that RNA-ODE substantially improves many aspects of standard single-cell analysis. By leveraging temporal dynamics, RNA-ODE more accurately estimates cell state lineage and pseudo-time compared to previous state-of-the-art methods. It also infers gene regulatory networks and identifies influential genes whose expression changes can decide cell fate. We expect RNA-ODE to be a Swiss army knife that aids many facets of single-cell RNA-seq analysis.

Keywords: RNA velocity; dynamical systems model of biology; expression dynamics; machine learning; single-cell RNA sequencing.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Cell Lineage
  • Gene Expression Regulation*
  • Gene Regulatory Networks*
  • RNA* / genetics
  • RNA-Seq
  • Single-Cell Analysis* / methods


  • RNA