Single-cell transcriptomics reveals gene expression heterogeneity but suffers from stochastic dropout and characteristic bimodal expression distributions in which expression is either strongly non-zero or non-detectable. We propose a two-part, generalized linear model for such bimodal data that parameterizes both of these features. We argue that the cellular detection rate, the fraction of genes expressed in a cell, should be adjusted for as a source of nuisance variation. Our model provides gene set enrichment analysis tailored to single-cell data. It provides insights into how networks of co-expressed genes evolve across an experimental treatment. MAST is available at https://github.com/RGLab/MAST.
MAST: a flexible statistical framework for assessing transcriptional changes and characterizing heterogeneity in single-cell RNA sequencing data