Profiles of expressed mutations in single cells reveal subclonal expansion patterns and therapeutic impact of intratumor heterogeneity

Research output: Other contribution


Advances in single-cell RNA sequencing (scRNAseq) technologies uncovered an unexpected complexity in tumors, underlining the relevance of intratumor heterogeneity to cancer progression and therapeutic resistance. Heterogeneity in the mutational composition of cancer cells is a result of distinct (sub)clonal expansions, each with a distinct metastatic potential and resistance to specific treatments. Unfortunately, due to their low read coverage per cell, scRNAseq datasets are too sparse and noisy to be used for detecting expressed mutations in single cells. Additionally, the large number of cells and mutations present in typical scRNAseq datasets are too large for available computational tools to, e.g., infer distinct subclones, lineages or trajectories in a tumor. Finally, there are no principled methods to assess distinct subclones inferred through single-cell sequencing data and the genomic alterations that seed and potentially cause them. Here we present Trisicell, a computational toolkit for scalable mutational intratumor heterogeneity inference and assessment from scRNAseq as well as single-cell genome or exome sequencing data. Trisicell allows reliable identification of distinct clonal lineages of a tumor, offering the ability to focus on the most important subclones and the genomic alterations that are associated with tumor proliferation. We comprehensively assessed Trisicell on a melanoma model by comparing distinct lineages and subclones it identifies on scRNAseq data, to those inferred using matching bulk whole exome (bWES) and transcriptome (bWTS) sequencing data from clonal sublines derived from single cells. Our results demonstrate that distinct lineages and subclones of a tumor can be reliably inferred and evaluated based on mutation calls from scRNAseq data through the use of Trisicell. Additionally, they reveal a strong correlation between aggressiveness and mutational composition, both across the inferred subclones, and among human melanomas. We also applied Trisicell to infer and evaluate distinct subclonal expansion patterns of the same mouse melanoma model after treatment with immune checkpoint blockade (ICB). After integratively analyzing our cell-specific mutation calls with their expression profiles, we observed that each subclone with a distinct set of novel somatic mutations is strongly associated with a specific developmental status. Moreover, each subclone had developed a unique ICB-resistance mechanism. These results demonstrate that Trisicell can robustly utilize scRNAseq data to delineate intratumor heterogeneity and help understand biological mechanisms underlying tumor progression and resistance to therapy.
Original languageUndefined
Publication statusPublished - 28 Mar 2021

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