Single-cell RNA-seq highlights intratumoral heterogeneity in primary glioblastoma

Science  20 Jun 2014:
Vol. 344, Issue 6190, pp. 1396-1401
DOI: 10.1126/science.1254257

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Cancer at single-cell resolution

Single-cell sequencing can illuminate the genetic properties of brain cancers and reveal heterogeneity within a tumor. Patel et al. examined the genome sequence of single cells isolated from brain glioblastomas. The findings revealed shared chromosomal changes but also extensive transcription variation, including genes related to signaling, which represent potential therapeutic targets. The authors suggest that the variation in tumor cells reflects neural development and that such variation among cancer cells may prove to have clinical significance.

Science, this issue p. 1396


Human cancers are complex ecosystems composed of cells with distinct phenotypes, genotypes, and epigenetic states, but current models do not adequately reflect tumor composition in patients. We used single-cell RNA sequencing (RNA-seq) to profile 430 cells from five primary glioblastomas, which we found to be inherently variable in their expression of diverse transcriptional programs related to oncogenic signaling, proliferation, complement/immune response, and hypoxia. We also observed a continuum of stemness-related expression states that enabled us to identify putative regulators of stemness in vivo. Finally, we show that established glioblastoma subtype classifiers are variably expressed across individual cells within a tumor and demonstrate the potential prognostic implications of such intratumoral heterogeneity. Thus, we reveal previously unappreciated heterogeneity in diverse regulatory programs central to glioblastoma biology, prognosis, and therapy.

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