Droplet-based forward genetic screening of astrocyte-microglia cross-talk

Science. 2023 Mar 10;379(6636):1023-1030. doi: 10.1126/science.abq4822. Epub 2023 Mar 9.


Cell-cell interactions in the central nervous system play important roles in neurologic diseases. However, little is known about the specific molecular pathways involved, and methods for their systematic identification are limited. Here, we developed a forward genetic screening platform that combines CRISPR-Cas9 perturbations, cell coculture in picoliter droplets, and microfluidic-based fluorescence-activated droplet sorting to identify mechanisms of cell-cell communication. We used SPEAC-seq (systematic perturbation of encapsulated associated cells followed by sequencing), in combination with in vivo genetic perturbations, to identify microglia-produced amphiregulin as a suppressor of disease-promoting astrocyte responses in multiple sclerosis preclinical models and clinical samples. Thus, SPEAC-seq enables the high-throughput systematic identification of cell-cell communication mechanisms.

MeSH terms

  • Amphiregulin* / genetics
  • Astrocytes* / physiology
  • Autocrine Communication* / genetics
  • Gene Expression
  • Genetic Testing* / methods
  • High-Throughput Screening Assays
  • Humans
  • Microfluidic Analytical Techniques* / methods
  • Microglia* / physiology


  • Amphiregulin