Spatial reconstruction of immune niches by combining photoactivatable reporters and scRNA-seq

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Science  22 Dec 2017:
Vol. 358, Issue 6370, pp. 1622-1626
DOI: 10.1126/science.aao4277

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Spatial information from NICHE-seq

Immune functions depend on the interactions of heterogeneous cells in a range of microenvironments in the body. Although information regarding immune cell function has been collected using single-cell RNA-sequencing methods, these techniques have traditionally lacked spatial information. Medaglia et al. describe NICHE-seq, a technique that allows the sorting and analysis of cells from within visually selected territories in transgenic mice that express photoactivatable green fluorescent protein. The method successfully identified T and B cell-specific niches in mouse lymph nodes and spleens after virus infection. The approach will allow us to bridge the gap between cellular and spatial information in studies of organs.

Science, this issue p. 1622


Cellular functions are strongly dependent on surrounding cells and environmental factors. Current technologies are limited in their ability to characterize the spatial location and gene programs of cells in poorly structured and dynamic niches. We developed a method, NICHE-seq, that combines photoactivatable fluorescent reporters, two-photon microscopy, and single-cell RNA sequencing (scRNA-seq) to infer the cellular and molecular composition of niches. We applied NICHE-seq to examine the high-order assembly of immune cell networks. NICHE-seq is highly reproducible in spatial tissue reconstruction, enabling identification of rare niche-specific immune subpopulations and gene programs, including natural killer cells within infected B cell follicles and distinct myeloid states in the spleen and tumor. This study establishes NICHE-seq as a broadly applicable method for elucidating high-order spatial organization of cell types and their molecular pathways.

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