The induction of broadly neutralizing antibodies (bnAbs) is highly desired for an effective vaccine against HIV-1. Typically, bnAbs develop in patients with high viremia, but they can also evolve in some untreated HIV-1 controllers with low viral loads. Here, we identify a subgroup of neutralizer-controllers characterized by myeloid DCs (mDCs) with a distinct inflammatory signature and a superior ability to prime T follicular helper (Tfh)-like cells in an STAT4-dependent fashion. This distinct immune profile is associated with a higher frequency of Tfh-like cells in peripheral blood (pTfh) and an enrichment for Tfh-defining genes in circulating CD4+ T cells. Correspondingly, monocytes from this neutralizer controller subgroup upregulate genes encoding for chemotaxis and inflammation, and they secrete high levels of IL-12 in response to TLR stimulation. Our results suggest the existence of multi-compartment immune networks between mDCs, Tfh, and monocytes that may facilitate the development of bnAbs in a subgroup of HIV-1 controllers.
Toxoplasma gondii chronically infects a quarter of the world’s population, and its recrudescence can cause life-threatening disease in immunocompromised individuals and recurrent ocular lesions in the immunocompetent. Acute-stage tachyzoites differentiate into chronic-stage bradyzoites, which form intracellular cysts resistant to immune clearance and existing therapies. The molecular basis of this differentiation is unknown, despite being efficiently triggered by stresses in culture. Through Cas9-mediated screening and single-cell profiling, we identify a Myb-like transcription factor (BFD1) necessary for differentiation in cell culture and in mice. BFD1 accumulates during stress and its synthetic expression is sufficient to drive differentiation. Consistent with its function as a transcription factor, BFD1 binds the promoters of many stage-specific genes and represents a counterpoint to the ApiAP2 factors that dominate our current view of parasite gene regulation. BFD1 provides a genetic switch to study and control Toxoplasma differentiation and will inform prevention and treatment of chronic infections.
Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb) is the leading cause of death from infection worldwide. The only available vaccine, BCG (Bacillus Calmette–Guérin), is given intradermally and has variable efficacy against pulmonary tuberculosis, the major cause of mortality and disease transmission. Here we show that intravenous administration of BCG profoundly alters the protective outcome of Mtb challenge in non-human primates (Macaca mulatta). Compared with intradermal or aerosol delivery, intravenous immunization induced substantially more antigen-responsive CD4 and CD8 T cell responses in blood, spleen, bronchoalveolar lavage and lung lymph nodes. Moreover, intravenous immunization induced a high frequency of antigen-responsive T cells across all lung parenchymal tissues. Six months after BCG vaccination, macaques were challenged with virulent Mtb. Notably, nine out of ten macaques that received intravenous BCG vaccination were highly protected, with six macaques showing no detectable levels of infection, as determined by positron emission tomography–computed tomography imaging, mycobacterial growth, pathology and granuloma formation. The finding that intravenous BCG prevents or substantially limits Mtb infection in highly susceptible rhesus macaques has important implications for vaccine delivery and clinical development, and provides a model for defining immune correlates and mechanisms of vaccine-elicited protection against tuberculosis.
By affinity capture and amplification of TCR transcripts from whole-transcriptome libraries, TCR CDR3 sequences can be recovered from 3′-barcoded scRNA-seq libraries (e.g. Seq-Well, Drop-seq, etc.). This method can be applied post-hoc, allowing for the capture of additional information from archived samples. The protocol can also be found here.
High-throughput 3′ single-cell RNA-sequencing (scRNA-seq) allows cost-effective, detailed characterization of individual immune cells from tissues. Current techniques, however, are limited in their ability to elucidate essential immune cell features, including variable sequences of T cell antigen receptors (TCRs) that confer antigen specificity. Here, we present a strategy that enables simultaneous analysis of TCR sequences and corresponding full transcriptomes from 3′-barcoded scRNA-seq samples. This approach is compatible with common 3′ scRNA-seq methods, and adaptable to processed samples post hoc. We applied the technique to identify transcriptional signatures associated with T cells sharing common TCRs from immunized mice and from patients with food allergy. We observed preferential phenotypes among subsets of expanded clonotypes, including type 2 helper CD4+ T cell (TH2) states associated with food allergy. These results demonstrate the utility of our method when studying diseases in which clonotype-driven responses are critical to understanding the underlying biology. The protocol can be found here.
Advances in single-cell RNA sequencing (scRNA-seq) allow the characterization of cellular states across human tissues with unprecedented granularity, creating opportunities to reassess the diversity of cell states found in health and the molecular networks that drive inflammatory disease. Type 2 inflammation is classically characterized by the recruitment and/or hyperplasia of TH2 cells, type 2 innate lymphoid cells (ILC2s), mast cells, and eosinophils, which promote the generation of IgE and the type 2 cytokines IL-4, IL-5, and IL-13. Although decades of research have elucidated pathobiologic roles for these hematopoietic cells in airway disease and linked them to the development of goblet cell metaplasia, we can now define their maturation and activation in human tissue, as well as the cellular neighborhoods in which they function. Although few in number, recent scRNA-seq studies in mice and human subjects have highlighted the remarkable cellular diversity of the airway, especially among constituent epithelial cells (EpCs), implicating them in novel proinflammatory pathways that support immune function and promote inflammatory disease.
Immune responses within barrier tissues are regulated, in part, by nociceptors, specialized peripheral sensory neurons that detect noxious stimuli. Previous work has shown that nociceptor ablation not only alters local responses to immune challenge at peripheral sites, but also within draining lymph nodes (LNs). The mechanisms and significance of nociceptor-dependent modulation of LN function are unknown. Indeed, although sympathetic innervation of LNs is well documented, it has been unclear whether the LN parenchyma itself is innervated by sensory neurons. Here, using a combination of high-resolution imaging, retrograde viral tracing, single-cell transcriptomics (scRNA-seq), and optogenetics, we identified and functionally tested a sensory neuro-immune circuit that is preferentially located in the outermost cortex of skin-draining LNs. Transcriptomic profiling revealed that there are at least four discrete subsets of sensory neurons that innervate LNs with a predominance of peptidergic nociceptors, and an innervation pattern that is distinct from that in the surrounding skin. To uncover potential LN-resident communication partners for LN-innervating sensory neurons, we employed scRNA-seq to generate a draft atlas of all murine LN cells and, based on receptor-ligand expression patterns, nominated candidate target populations among stromal and immune cells. Using selective optogenetic stimulation of LN-innervating sensory axons, we directly experimentally tested our inferred connections. Acute neuronal activation triggered rapid transcriptional changes preferentially within our top-ranked putative interacting partners, principally endothelium and other nodal stroma cells, as well as several innate leukocyte populations. Thus, LNs are monitored by a unique population of sensory neurons that possesses immunomodulatory potential.
Genome-wide association studies (GWAS) have identified genetic variants associated with age-related macular degeneration (AMD), one of the leading causes of blindness in the elderly. However, it has been challenging to identify the cell types associated with AMD given the genetic complexity of the disease. Here we perform massively parallel single-cell RNA sequencing (scRNA-seq) of human retinas using two independent platforms, and report the first single-cell transcriptomic atlas of the human retina. Using a multi-resolution network-based analysis, we identify all major retinal cell types, and their corresponding gene expression signatures. Heterogeneity is observed within macroglia, suggesting that human retinal glia are more diverse than previously thought. Finally, GWAS-based enrichment analysis identifies glia, vascular cells, and cone photoreceptors to be associated with the risk of AMD. These data provide a detailed analysis of the human retina, and show how scRNA-seq can provide insight into cell types involved in complex, inflammatory genetic diseases.
Transitional B cells must actively undergo selection for self-tolerance before maturing into their resting follicular B cell successors. We found that metabolic quiescence was acquired at the follicular B cell stage in both humans and mice. In follicular B cells, the expression of genes involved in ribosome biogenesis, aerobic respiration, and mammalian target of rapamycin complex 1 (mTORC1) signaling was reduced when compared to that in transitional B cells. Functional metabolism studies, profiling of whole-cell metabolites, and analysis of cell surface proteins in human B cells suggested that this transition was also associated with increased extracellular adenosine salvage. Follicular B cells increased the abundance of the cell surface ectonucleotidase CD73, which coincided with adenosine 5′-monophosphate–activated protein kinase (AMPK) activation. Differentiation to the follicular B cell stage in vitro correlated with surface acquisition of CD73 on human transitional B cells and was augmented with the AMPK agonist, AICAR. Last, individuals with gain-of-function PIK3CD (PI3Kdelta) mutations and increased pS6 activation exhibited a near absence of circulating follicular B cells. Together, our data suggest that mTORC1 attenuation may be necessary for human follicular B cell development. These data identify a distinct metabolic switch during human B cell development at the transitional to follicular stages, which is characterized by an induction of extracellular adenosine salvage, AMPK activation, and the acquisition of metabolic quiescence.
Immunity celebrates its 25th anniversary at an exciting time in immunology, marked by the advent of new, door-opening approaches and a deeper understanding of the centrality of the immune system to both health and disease. We asked 25 investigators to look forward and share a vision of the next quarter century of immunology research.
Antibody paratopes are formed by hypervariable complementarity-determining regions (CDRH3s) and variable gene-encoded CDRs. The latter show biased usage in human broadly neutralizing antibodies (bnAbs) against both HIV and influenza virus, suggesting the existence of gene-endowed targeting solutions that may be amenable to pathway amplification. To test this, we generated transgenic mice with human CDRH3 diversity but simultaneously constrained to individual user-defined human immunoglobulin variable heavy-chain (VH) genes, including IGHV1-69, which shows biased usage in human bnAbs targeting the hemagglutinin stalk of group 1 influenza A viruses. Sequential immunization with a stalk-only hemagglutinin nanoparticle elicited group 1 bnAbs, but only in IGHV1-69 mice. This VH-endowed response required minimal affinity maturation, was elicited alongside pre-existing influenza immunity, and when IGHV1-69 B cells were diluted to match the frequency measured in humans. These results indicate that the human repertoire could, in principle, support germline-encoded bnAb elicitation using a single recombinant hemagglutinin immunogen.
Maintenance of pluripotency and specification towards a new cell fate are both dependent on precise interactions between extrinsic signals and transcriptional and epigenetic regulators. Directed methylation of cytosines by the de novo methyltransferases DNMT3A and DNMT3B plays an important role in facilitating proper differentiation, whereas DNMT1 is essential for maintaining global methylation levels in all cell types. Here, we generated single-cell mRNA expression data from wild-type, DNMT3A, DNMT3A/3B and DNMT1 knockout human embryonic stem cells and observed a widespread increase in cellular and transcriptional variability, even with limited changes in global methylation levels in the de novo knockouts. Furthermore, we found unexpected transcriptional repression upon either loss of the de novo methyltransferase DNMT3A or the double knockout of DNMT3A/3B that is further propagated upon differentiation to mesoderm and ectoderm. Taken together, our single-cell RNA-sequencing data provide a high-resolution view into the consequences of depleting the three catalytically active DNMTs in human pluripotent stem cells.
Pilocytic astrocytoma (PA), the most common childhood brain tumor, is a low-grade glioma with a single driver BRAF rearrangement. Here, we perform scRNAseq in six PAs using methods that enabled detection of the rearrangement. When compared to higher-grade gliomas, a strikingly higher proportion of the PA cancer cells exhibit a differentiated, astrocyte-like phenotype. A smaller proportion of cells exhibit a progenitor-like phenotype with evidence of proliferation. These express a mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) programme that was absent from higher-grade gliomas. Immune cells, especially microglia, comprise 40% of all cells in the PAs and account for differences in bulk expression profiles between tumor locations and subtypes. These data indicate that MAPK signaling is restricted to relatively undifferentiated cancer cells in PA, with implications for investigational therapies directed at this pathway.
Genomic medicine has paved the way for identifying biomarkers and therapeutically actionable targets for complex diseases, but is complicated by the involvement of thousands of variably expressed genes across multiple cell types. Single-cell RNA-sequencing study (scRNA-seq) allows the characterization of such complex changes in whole organs. The study is based on applying network tools to organize and analyze scRNA-seq data from a mouse model of arthritis and human rheumatoid arthritis, in order to find diagnostic biomarkers and therapeutic targets. Diagnostic validation studies were performed using expression profiling data and potential protein biomarkers from prospective clinical studies of 13 diseases. A candidate drug was examined by a treatment study of a mouse model of arthritis, using phenotypic, immunohistochemical, and cellular analyses as read-outs. We performed the first systematic analysis of pathways, potential biomarkers, and drug targets in scRNA-seq data from a complex disease, starting with inflamed joints and lymph nodes from a mouse model of arthritis. We found the involvement of hundreds of pathways, biomarkers, and drug targets that differed greatly between cell types. Analyses of scRNA-seq and GWAS data from human rheumatoid arthritis (RA) supported a similar dispersion of pathogenic mechanisms in different cell types. Thus, systems-level approaches to prioritize biomarkers and drugs are needed. Here, we present a prioritization strategy that is based on constructing network models of disease-associated cell types and interactions using scRNA-seq data from our mouse model of arthritis, as well as human RA, which we term multicellular disease models (MCDMs). We find that the network centrality of MCDM cell types correlates with the enrichment of genes harboring genetic variants associated with RA and thus could potentially be used to prioritize cell types and genes for diagnostics and therapeutics. We validated this hypothesis in a large-scale study of patients with 13 different autoimmune, allergic, infectious, malignant, endocrine, metabolic, and cardiovascular diseases, as well as a therapeutic study of the mouse arthritis model. Overall, our results support that our strategy has the potential to help prioritize diagnostic and therapeutic targets in human disease.
Genome-wide association studies (GWAS) have revealed risk alleles for ulcerative colitis (UC). To understand their cell type specificities and pathways of action, we generate an atlas of 366,650 cells from the colon mucosa of 18 UC patients and 12 healthy individuals, revealing 51 epithelial, stromal, and immune cell subsets, including BEST4+ enterocytes, microfold-like cells, and IL13RA2+IL11+ inflammatory fibroblasts, which we associate with resistance to anti-TNF treatment. Inflammatory fibroblasts, inflammatory monocytes, microfold-like cells, and T cells that co-express CD8 and IL-17 expand with disease, forming intercellular interaction hubs. Many UC risk genes are cell type specific and co-regulated within relatively few gene modules, suggesting convergence onto limited sets of cell types and pathways. Using this observation, we nominate and infer functions for specific risk genes across GWAS loci. Our work provides a framework for interrogating complex human diseases and mapping risk variants to cell types and pathways.
The development of high-throughput single-cell RNA-sequencing (scRNA-Seq) methodologies has empowered the characterization of complex biological samples by dramatically increasing the number of constituent cells that can be examined concurrently. Nevertheless, these approaches typically recover substantially less information per-cell as compared to lower-throughput microtiter plate-based strategies. To uncover critical phenotypic differences among cells and effectively link scRNA-Seq observations to legacy datasets, reliable detection of phenotype-defining transcripts – such as transcription factors, affinity receptors, and signaling molecules – by these methods is essential. Here, we describe a substantially improved massively-parallel scRNA-Seq protocol we term Seq-Well S^3 (“Second-Strand Synthesis”) that increases the efficiency of transcript capture and gene detection by up to 10- and 5-fold, respectively, relative to previous iterations, surpassing best-in-class commercial analogs. We first characterized the performance of Seq-Well S^3 in cell lines and PBMCs, and then examined five different inflammatory skin diseases, illustrative of distinct types of inflammation, to explore the breadth of potential immune and parenchymal cell states. Our work presents an essential methodological advance as well as a valuable resource for studying the cellular and molecular features that inform human skin inflammation.
Tuberculosis is the leading cause of death by an infectious disease worldwide1. However, the involvement of innate lymphoid cells (ILCs) in immune responses to infection with Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb) is unknown. Here we show that circulating subsets of ILCs are depleted from the blood of participants with pulmonary tuberculosis and restored upon treatment. Tuberculosis increased accumulation of ILC subsets in the human lung, coinciding with a robust transcriptional response to infection, including a role in orchestrating the recruitment of immune subsets. Using mouse models, we show that group 3 ILCs (ILC3s) accumulated rapidly in Mtb-infected lungs and coincided with the accumulation of alveolar macrophages. Notably, mice that lacked ILC3s exhibited a reduction in the accumulation of early alveolar macrophages and decreased Mtb control. We show that the C-X-C motif chemokine receptor 5 (CXCR5)–C-X-C motif chemokine ligand 13 (CXCL13) axis is involved in Mtb control, as infection upregulates CXCR5 on circulating ILC3s and increases plasma levels of its ligand, CXCL13, in humans. Moreover, interleukin-23-dependent expansion of ILC3s in mice and production of interleukin-17 and interleukin-22 were found to be critical inducers of lung CXCL13, early innate immunity and the formation of protective lymphoid follicles within granulomas. Thus, we demonstrate an early protective role for ILC3s in immunity to Mtb infection.
Toxoplasma gondii chronically infects a quarter of the world’s population, and its recrudescence can cause life-threatening disease in immunocompromised individuals and recurrent ocular lesions in the immunocompetent. Chronic stages are established by differentiation of rapidly replicating tachyzoites into slow-growing bradyzoites, which form intracellular cysts resistant to immune clearance and existing therapies. Despite its central role in infection, the molecular basis of chronic differentiation is not understood. Through Cas9-mediated genetic screening and single-cell transcriptional profiling, we identify and characterize a putative transcription factor (BFD1) as necessary and sufficient for differentiation. Translation of BFD1 appears to be stress regulated, and its constitutive expression elicits differentiation in the absence of stress. As a Myb-like factor, BFD1 provides a counterpoint to the ApiAP2 factors which dominate our current view of parasite gene regulation. Overall, BFD1 provides a genetic switch to study and control Toxoplasmadifferentiation, and will inform prevention and treatment of chronic infection.
Cellular immunity is critical for controlling intracellular pathogens, but the dynamics and cooperativity of the evolving host response to infection are not well defined. Here, we apply single-cell RNA-sequencing to longitudinally profile pre- and immediately post-HIV infection peripheral immune responses of multiple cell types in four untreated individuals. Onset of viremia induces a strong transcriptional interferon response integrated across most cell types, with subsequent pro-inflammatory T cell differentiation, monocyte MHC-II upregulation, and cytolytic killing. With longitudinal sampling, we nominate key intra- and extracellular drivers that induce these programs, and assign their multi-cellular targets, temporal ordering, and duration in acute infection. Two individuals studied developed spontaneous viral control, associated with initial elevated frequencies of proliferating cytotoxic cells, inclusive of a previously unappreciated proliferating natural killer (NK) cell subset. Our study presents a unified framework for characterizing immune evolution during a persistent human viral infection at single-cell resolution, and highlights programs that may drive response coordination and influence clinical trajectory.
The extraordinary activity of high-dose cyclophosphamide against some high-grade lymphomas was described nearly 60 years ago. Here we address mechanisms that mediate cyclophosphamide activity in bona fide human double-hit lymphoma. We show that antibody resistance within the bone marrow (BM) is not present upon early engraftment but develops during lymphoma progression. This resistance required a high tumor: macrophage ratio, was recapitulated in spleen by partial macrophage depletion and was overcome by multiple, highdose alkylating agents. Cyclophosphamide induced ER-stress in BM-resident lymphoma cells in vivo that resulted in ATF4-mediated paracrine secretion of VEGF-A, massive macrophage infiltration and clearance of alemtuzumab-opsonized cells. BM macrophages isolated after cyclophosphamide treatment had increased phagocytic capacity that was reversed by VEGF-A blockade or SYK inhibition. Single-cell RNA sequencing of these macrophages identified a “super-phagocytic” subset that expressed CD36/FcgRIV. Together, these findings define a novel mechanism through which high-dose alkylating agents promote macrophage-dependent lymphoma clearance.
The liver can substantially regenerate after injury, with both main epithelial cell types, hepatocytes and biliary epithelial cells (BECs), playing important roles in parenchymal regeneration. Beyond metabolic functions, BECs exhibit substantial plasticity and in some contexts can drive hepatic repopulation. Here, we performed single-cell RNA sequencing to examine BEC and hepatocyte heterogeneity during homeostasis and after injury. Instead of evidence for a transcriptionally defined progenitor-like BEC cell, we found significant homeostatic BEC heterogeneity that reflects fluctuating activation of a YAPdependent program. This transcriptional signature defines a dynamic cellular state during homeostasis and is highly responsive to injury. YAP signaling is induced by physiological bile acids (BAs), required for BEC survival in response to BA exposure, and is necessary for hepatocyte reprogramming into biliary progenitors upon injury. Together, these findings uncover molecular heterogeneity within the ductal epithelium and reveal YAP as a protective rheostat and regenerative regulator in the mammalian liver.
Circulating tumor cells (CTCs) play a fundamental role in cancer progression. However, in mice, limited blood volume and the rarity of CTCs in the bloodstream preclude longitudinal, in-depth studies of these cells using existing liquid biopsy techniques. Here, we present an optofluidic system that continuously collects fluorescently labeled CTCs from a genetically engineered mouse model (GEMM) for several hours per day over multiple days or weeks. The system is based on a microfluidic cell sorting chip connected serially to an unanesthetized mouse via an implanted arteriovenous shunt. Pneumatically controlled microfluidic valves capture CTCs as they flow through the device, and CTC-depleted blood is returned back to the mouse via the shunt. To demonstrate the utility of our system, we profile CTCs isolated longitudinally from animals over 4 days of treatment with the BET inhibitor JQ1 using single-cell RNA sequencing (scRNA-Seq) and show that our approach eliminates potential biases driven by intermouse heterogeneity that can occur when CTCs are collected across different mice. The CTC isolation and sorting technology presented here provides a research tool to help reveal details of how CTCs evolve over time, allowing studies to credential changes in CTCs as biomarkers of drug response and facilitating future studies to understand the role of CTCs in metastasis.
Mass and growth rate are highly integrative measures of cell physiology not discernable via genomic measurements. Here, we introduce a microfluidic platform enabling direct measurement of single-cell mass and growth rate upstream of highly multiplexed single-cell profiling such as single-cell RNA sequencing. We resolve transcriptional signatures associated with single-cell mass and growth rate in L1210 and FL5.12 cell lines and activated CD8+ T cells. Further, we demonstrate a framework using these linked measurements to characterize biophysical heterogeneity in a patient-derived glioblastoma cell line with and without drug treatment. Our results highlight the value of coupled phenotypic metrics in guiding single-cell genomics.
Mice engrafted with components of a human immune system have become widely-used models for studying aspects of human immunity and disease. However, a defined methodology to objectively measure and compare the quality of the human immune response in different models is lacking. Here, by taking advantage of the highly immunogenic live-attenuated yellow fever virus vaccine YFV-17D, we provide an in-depth comparison of immune responses in human vaccinees, conventional humanized mice, and second generation humanized mice. We demonstrate that selective expansion of human myeloid and natural killer cells promotes transcriptomic responses akin to those of human vaccinees. These enhanced transcriptomic profiles correlate with the development of an antigen-specific cellular and humoral response to YFV-17D. Altogether, our approach provides a robust scoring of the quality of the human immune response in humanized mice and highlights a rational path towards developing better pre-clinical models for studying the human immune response and disease.
Genome-wide association studies (GWAS) have revealed risk alleles for ulcerative colitis (UC), but their cell type and pathway specificities are often unknown. Here, we generate an atlas of 115,517 cells from the colon mucosa of seven UC patients and ten healthy individuals, revealing 51 epithelial, stromal, and immune cell subsets, including a subset of BEST4+ enterocytes, which may sense and respond to pH, and IL13RA2+IL-11+ inflammatory fibroblasts, which we associate with resistance to anti-TNF therapy. Inflammatory fibroblasts, inflammatory monocytes, microfold-like cells, and CD8+IL-17+ T cells expand during disease, and form intercellular interaction hubs that mediate cross-talk between diverse cellular lineages. We identify hundreds of putative autocrine and paracrine cell-cell interactions that may explain the migration, expansion, or inhibition of cell types with disease. Surprisingly, UC risk genes are often cell type specific and co-regulated in relatively few gene modules, suggesting convergence onto limited sets of cell types and pathways. Using this observation, we nominate and infer putative functions for UC risk genes across all GWAS loci. Our atlas thus provides a framework for interrogating complex human diseases and mapping risk variants onto their cell types and pathways of activity.
Barrier tissue dysfunction is a fundamental feature of chronic human inflammatory diseases1. Specialized subsets of epithelial cells—including secretory and ciliated cells—differentiate from basal stem cells to collectively protect the upper airway2,3,4. Allergic inflammation can develop from persistent activation5 of type 2 immunity6 in the upper airway, resulting in chronic rhinosinusitis, which ranges in severity from rhinitis to severe nasal polyps7. Basal cell hyperplasia is a hallmark of severe disease7,8,9, but it is not known how these progenitor cells2,10,11contribute to clinical presentation and barrier tissue dysfunction in humans. Here we profile primary human surgical chronic rhinosinusitis samples (18,036 cells, n = 12) that span the disease spectrum using Seq-Well for massively parallel single-cell RNA sequencing12, report transcriptomes for human respiratory epithelial, immune and stromal cell types and subsets from a type 2 inflammatory disease, and map key mediators. By comparison with nasal scrapings (18,704 cells, n = 9), we define signatures of core, healthy, inflamed and polyp secretory cells. We reveal marked differences between the epithelial compartments of the non-polyp and polyp cellular ecosystems, identifying and validating a global reduction in cellular diversity of polyps characterized by basal cell hyperplasia, concomitant decreases in glandular cells, and phenotypic shifts in secretory cell antimicrobial expression. We detect an aberrant basal progenitor differentiation trajectory in polyps, and propose cell-intrinsic13, epigenetic14,15 and extrinsic factors11,16,17 that lock polyp basal cells into this uncommitted state. Finally, we functionally demonstrate that ex vivo cultured basal cells retain intrinsic memory of IL-4/IL-13 exposure, and test the potential for clinical blockade of the IL-4 receptor α-subunit to modify basal and secretory cell states in vivo. Overall, we find that reduced epithelial diversity stemming from functional shifts in basal cells is a key characteristic of type 2 immune-mediated barrier tissue dysfunction. Our results demonstrate that epithelial stem cells may contribute to the persistence of human disease by serving as repositories for allergic memories.
The recent advent of methods for high-throughput single-cell molecular profiling has catalyzed a growing sense in the scientific community that the time is ripe to complete the 150-year-old effort to identify all cell types in the human body. The Human Cell Atlas Project is an international collaborative effort that aims to define all human cell types in terms of distinctive molecular profiles (such as gene expression profiles) and to connect this information with classical cellular descriptions (such as location and morphology). An open comprehensive reference map of the molecular state of cells in healthy human tissues would propel the systematic study of physiological states, developmental trajectories, regulatory circuitry and interactions of cells, and also provide a framework for understanding cellular dysregulation in human disease. Here we describe the idea, its potential utility, early proofs-of-concept, and some design considerations for the Human Cell Atlas, including a commitment to open data, code, and community.
We develop single-cell transcriptomic approaches to comprehensively profile human tissues and model systems. Previously, we focused on establishing, validating, scaling, and simplifying single-cell RNA-seq, often through the development of microdevices, to enable genome-wide identification of the cell types/states contained within complex biological samples. More recently, we helped both enhance the detection of phenotype-defining transcripts using these methods and simplify their on-site processing for clinical applications. In parallel, we have also worked to democratize these techniques, providing open access to resources and protocols, training thousands locally and abroad, and establishing infrastructure and on-site collaborations spanning across 6 continents and 26+ countries.
As many factors define cellular phenotype and influence disease beyond mRNA, we develop complementary methods for co-assaying other cellular attributes to enrich our understanding of the drivers of cellular behaviors. Examples including the abundance of additional ‘-omes’, the sequence and amount of important transcripts, cellular history, biophysical properties, spatial position, and functional output. Recently, we have worked to: 1. detect pathogens in cells and potentially actionable associated host factors; 2. query for specific mutations to identify cancer cells; and, 3. extract T cell receptor sequences to examine clonality. We have also formulated computational methods to derive deeper insights from these data (e.g., to examine viral dynamic in infected cells, reproducible features hidden by inter-individual variability, multicellular immune dynamics, intercellular communication, or alteration in cellular ecosystems associated with pathology).
We explore how the extracellular milieu influences cellular decision-making. Here, we have employed controlled culture conditions with cells and organoids, chemical and genetic perturbations, and constant microfluidic perfusion. We also have leveraged natural microenvironmental variation within and across tissues via microdissection and by using photoactivatable probes that retain spatial information through dissociation. In each instance, we aim to understand the degree to which extracellular environments modulate, and can be used to rationally control, the responses of individual cells or the overall distribution thereof, with an eye toward engineering tissue responses.
We examine the impact of intercellular interactions on cellular function. We have used coculture, imaging and perturbation strategies, as well as matched computational methods, to reinforce findings from dissociated samples, validate inferred cell-cell communication in vivo (e.g., between sensory neurons and lymph node resident cells), and manipulate multicellular systems (e.g., organoids). We are currently working on building arrayed, synthetically-designed cellular ensembles to examine how ‘tissue’ structure impacts functional response. Our overall goal is to understand cellular co-dependencies that influence niche- and tissue-level response dynamics.
We broadly study how intra- and extracellular circuits collectively drive healthy and diseased tissue states. By leveraging the massive genomic datasets we and others have generated from complex tissues (like melanoma tumors, inflamed gut, and nasal polyps), we have begun to identify common and unique cell types/states and circuits associated with pathology that may be important for regulating biological function and stability. Our current findings suggest multiple overlaps among distinct diseases, pointing to the possibility of a finite set of evolved response strategies and thus common interventions based on adjusting specific cell states, cell frequencies, and/or cell-cell communication pathways.
We lack effective treatments and preventions for many of the most challenging infectious diseases, many of which disproportionately impact those in low- and middle-income countries or traditionally marginalized communities.
To help address this, we have established and enabled multi-group, multi-country partnerships to deploy and adapt cutting-edge genomic tools. By examining how cells dynamically alter their states, individually and collectively, during disease and/or its resolution in acute and chronic infections—e.g., tuberculosis, HIV/SHIV, hepatitis, malaria, leprosy, flu, SARS-CoV-2, and ebola—we have uncovered cellular and molecular features of pathogen control or pathology to potentiate or counteract, respectively. Illustratively, in tuberculosis, we identified a functional role for cytotoxic CD8 and hybrid type1-type17 T cells in control of infection in the lung and links between mast, plasma, and endothelial cell abundance (type-2 immune responses) and bacterial burden. We have also built methods for examining pathogens within individual host cells to define their dynamic interdependence and identify potentially restrictive host factors.
We are currently working to identify the drivers of common host responses to distinct perturbations and their targetability, as well as the impact of different interventions (e.g., vaccines).
Immune responses play a critical role in preventing tumorigenesis. Sometimes, however, they are ineffectual and can even drive/support malignancy.
We have examined how cancer cells alter and are influenced by their tumor microenvironments (TMEs), and the impact this has on therapeutic responses. Illustratively, in Pancreatic Ductal Adenocarcinoma (PDAC), by profiling liver metastases and matched organoid models, we showed: 1. associations between TME and malignant cell state composition; 2. that autocrine and paracrine signaling can drive malignant cell state transitions, even in an isogenic background, altering the efficacy of frontline chemotherapies; and, 3. that microenvironmental manipulations can be used to control malignant state, and thereby drug responses, rationally, and to improve model fidelity for screening potential therapies. This and related work highlight the potential utility of modulating indirect target cells (T cells in the PDAC TME or basal cells in allergic inflammation) to enhance cures and preventions.
We are now systematically expanding this work to define how additional environmental and cell-intrinsic factors influence malignant cell state plasticity in PDAC and other cancers toward enhancing treatments.
We are exposed to a constant flux of external biochemical and physical stimuli as we age. Despite variability in our overall experiences and exact constitutions, our individual tissues typically manage to maintain functionality, though each can differ in its resilience to distinct stressors.
We have characterized how differences in cellular composition and communication impact tissue fitness and have identified responses and subsequent adaptations that drive chronic dysfunction. For example, although aberrant immune activity can precipitate allergic inflammatory diseases, therapies targeting immune cells and signaling are only successful in some, suggesting chronicity may involve alternative mechanisms. Previously, we helped demonstrate that dysregulated type-2 immune signaling, driven by environmental allergens, can impact tissue health in the upper airway through generating dysfunctional basal epithelial stem cells. These stem cells can then contribute to persistence by serving as repositories for allergic inflammatory memories, altering the integrity and functional output of the nasal epithelium. Our work, with that of others, suggests generalizable principles for cellular memory, and informs where and how tissues should be targeted to support health or restore function. We have since further investigated how tissue-resident cellular subsets participate in, and are shaped by, environmental exposures at barrier tissues and the functional consequences of these experiences.
We are now working to develop a more holistic appreciation for how different intra- and extracellular factors (e.g., genetics and integrated exposure history, respectively) influence barrier tissue function.
HIV-1–specific broadly neutralizing antibodies (bnAbs) typically develop in individuals with continuous high-level viral replication and increased immune activation, conditions that cannot be reproduced during prophylactic immunization. Understanding mechanisms supporting bnAb development in the absence of high-level viremia may be important for designing bnAb-inducing immunogens. Here, we show that the breadth of neutralizing antibody responses in HIV-1 controllers was associated with a relative enrichment of circulating CXCR5+CXCR3+PD-1lo CD4+ T cells. These CXCR3+PD-1lo Tfh-like cells were preferentially induced in vitro by functionally superior dendritic cells from controller neutralizers, and able to secrete IL-21 and support B cells. In addition, these CXCR3+PD-1lo Tfh-like cells contained higher proportions of stem cell–like memory T cells, and upon antigenic stimulation differentiated into PD-1hi Tfh-like cells in a Notch-dependent manner. Together, these data suggest that CXCR5+CXCR3+PD-1lo cells represent a dendritic cell–primed precursor cell population for PD-1hi Tfh-like cells that may contribute to the generation of bnAbs in the absence of high-level viremia.
CD8+ T cell recognition of virus-infected cells is characteristically restricted by major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class I, although rare examples of MHC class II restriction have been reported in Cd4-deficient mice and a macaque SIV vaccine trial using a recombinant cytomegalovirus vector. Here, we demonstrate the presence of human leukocyte antigen (HLA) class II-restricted CD8+ T cell responses with antiviral properties in a small subset of HIV-infected individuals. In these individuals, T cell receptor β (TCRβ) analysis revealed that class II-restricted CD8+ T cells underwent clonal expansion and mediated killing of HIV-infected cells. In one case, these cells comprised 12% of circulating CD8+ T cells, and TCRα analysis revealed two distinct co-expressed TCRα chains, with only one contributing to binding of the class II HLA-peptide complex. These data indicate that class II-restricted CD8+ T cell responses can exist in a chronic human viral infection, and may contribute to immune control.
Mammalian X-linked gene expression is highly regulated as female cells contain two and male one X chromosome (X). To adjust the X gene dosage between genders, female mouse preimplantation embryos undergo an imprinted form of X chromosome inactivation (iXCI) that requires both Rlim(also known as Rnf12) and the long non-coding RNA Xist. Moreover, it is thought that gene expression from the single active X is upregulated to correct for bi-allelic autosomal (A) gene expression. We have combined mouse genetics with RNA-seq on single mouse embryos to investigate functions ofRlim on the temporal regulation of iXCI and Xist. Our results reveal crucial roles of Rlim for the maintenance of high Xist RNA levels, Xist clouds and X-silencing in female embryos at blastocyst stages, while initial Xist expression appears Rlim-independent. We find further that X/A upregulation is initiated in early male and female preimplantation embryos.
We present a scalable, integrated strategy for coupled protein and RNA detection from single cells. Our approach leverages the DNA polymerase activity of reverse transcriptase to simultaneously perform proximity extension assays and complementary DNA synthesis in the same reaction. Using the Fluidigm C1TM system, we profile the transcriptomic and proteomic response of a human breast adenocarcinoma cell line to a chemical perturbation, benchmarking against in situ hybridizations and immunofluorescence staining, as well as recombinant proteins, ERCC Spike-Ins, and population lysate dilutions. Through supervised and unsupervised analyses, we demonstrate synergies enabled by simultaneous measurement of single-cell protein and RNA abundances. Collectively, our generalizable approach highlights the potential for molecular metadata to inform highly-multiplexed single-cell analyses.
To explore the distinct genotypic and phenotypic states of melanoma tumors, we applied single-cell RNA sequencing (RNA-seq) to 4645 single cells isolated from 19 patients, profiling malignant, immune, stromal, and endothelial cells. Malignant cells within the same tumor displayed transcriptional heterogeneity associated with the cell cycle, spatial context, and a drug-resistance program. In particular, all tumors harbored malignant cells from two distinct transcriptional cell states, such that tumors characterized by high levels of the MITF transcription factor also contained cells with low MITF and elevated levels of the AXL kinase. Single-cell analyses suggested distinct tumor microenvironmental patterns, including cell-to-cell interactions. Analysis of tumor-infiltrating T cells revealed exhaustion programs, their connection to T cell activation and clonal expansion, and their variability across patients. Overall, we begin to unravel the cellular ecosystem of tumors and how single-cell genomics offers insights with implications for both targeted and immune therapies.
Innate lymphoid cells (ILCs) play a central role in the response to infection by secreting cytokines crucial for immune regulation, tissue homeostasis, and repair. Although dysregulation of these systems is central to pathology, the impact of HIV-1 on ILCs remains unknown. We found that human blood ILCs were severely depleted during acute viremic HIV-1 infection and that ILC numbers did not recover after resolution of peak viremia. ILC numbers were preserved by antiretroviral therapy (ART), but only if initiated during acute infection. Transcriptional profiling during the acute phase revealed upregulation of genes associated with cell death, temporally linked with a strong IFN acutephase response and evidence of gut barrier breakdown. We found no evidence of tissue redistribution in chronic disease and remaining circulating ILCs were activated but not apoptotic. These data provide a potential mechanistic link between acute HIV-1 infection, lymphoid tissue breakdown, and persistent immune dysfunction.
We introduce a microfluidic platform that enables off-chip single-cell RNA-seq after multi-generational lineage tracking under controlled culture conditions. We use this platform to generate whole-transcriptome profiles of primary, activated murine CD8+ T-cell and lymphocytic leukemia cell line lineages. Here we report that both cell types have greater intra- than inter-lineage transcriptional similarity. For CD8+ T-cells, genes with functional annotation relating to lymphocyte differentiation and function—including Granzyme B—are enriched among the genes that demonstrate greater intra-lineage expression level similarity. Analysis of gene expression covariance with matched measurements of time since division reveals cell type-specific transcriptional signatures that correspond with cell cycle progression. We believe that the ability to directly measure the effects of lineage and cell cycle-dependent transcriptional profiles of single cells will be broadly useful to fields where heterogeneous populations of cells display distinct clonal trajectories, including immunology, cancer, and developmental biology.
Extensive cellular heterogeneity exists within specific immune-cell subtypes classified as a single lineage, but its molecular underpinnings are rarely characterized at a genomic scale. Here, we use single-cell RNA-seq to investigate the molecular mechanisms governing heterogeneity and pathogenicity of Th17 cells isolated from the central nervous system (CNS) and lymph nodes (LN) at the peak of autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE) or differentiated in vitro under either pathogenic or non-pathogenic polarization conditions. Computational analysis relates a spectrum of cellular states in vivo to in-vitro-differentiated Th17 cells and unveils genes governing pathogenicity and disease susceptibility. Using knockout mice, we validate four new genes: Gpr65, Plzp, Toso, and Cd5l (in a companion paper). Cellular heterogeneity thus informs Th17 function in autoimmunity and can identify targets for selective suppression of pathogenic Th17 cells while potentially sparing non-pathogenic tissue-protective ones.
Epigenetic changes are crucial for the generation of immunological memory. Failure to generate or maintain these changes will result in poor memory responses. Similarly, augmenting or stabilizing the correct epigenetic states offers a potential method of enhancing memory. Yet the transcription factors that regulate these processes are poorly defined. We find that the transcription factor Oct1 and its cofactor OCA-B are selectively required for the in vivo generation of CD4+ memory T cells. More importantly, the memory cells that are formed do not respond properly to antigen reencounter. In vitro, both proteins are required to maintain a poised state at the Il2 target locus in resting but previously stimulated CD4+ T cells. OCA-B is also required for the robust reexpression of multiple other genes including Ifng. ChIPseq identifies ∼50 differentially expressed direct Oct1 and OCA-B targets. We identify an underlying mechanism involving OCA-B recruitment of the histone lysine demethylase Jmjd1a to targets such as Il2, Ifng, andZbtb32. The findings pinpoint Oct1 and OCA-B as central mediators of CD4+ T cell memory.
Encounters between immune cells and invading bacteria ultimately determine the course of infection. These interactions are usually measured in populations of cells, masking cell-to-cell variation that may be important for infection outcome. To characterize the gene expression variation that underlies distinct infection outcomes and monitor infection phenotypes, we developed an experimental system that combines single-cell RNA-seq with fluorescent markers. Probing the responses of individual macrophages to invading Salmonella, we find that variation between individual infected host cells is determined by the heterogeneous activity of bacterial factors in individual infecting bacteria. We illustrate how variable PhoPQ activity in the population of invading bacteria drives variable host type I IFN responses by modifying LPS in a subset of bacteria. This work demonstrates a causative link between host and bacterial variability, with cell-to-cell variation between different bacteria being sufficient to drive radically different host immune responses. This co-variation has implications for host-pathogen dynamics in vivo.
Pluripotent stem cells (PSCs) are capable of dynamic interconversion between distinct substates; however, the regulatory circuits specifying these states and enabling transitions between them are not well understood. Here we set out to characterize transcriptional heterogeneity in mouse PSCs by single-cell expression profiling under different chemical and genetic perturbations. Signalling factors and developmental regulators show highly variable expression, with expression states for some variable genes heritable through multiple cell divisions. Expression variability and population heterogeneity can be influenced by perturbation of signalling pathways and chromatin regulators. Notably, either removal of mature microRNAs or pharmacological blockage of signalling pathways drives PSCs into a low-noise ground state characterized by a reconfigured pluripotency network, enhanced self-renewal and a distinct chromatin state, an effect mediated by opposing microRNA families acting on the Myc/Lin28/let-7 axis. These data provide insight into the nature of transcriptional heterogeneity in PSCs.
High-throughput single-cell transcriptomics offers an unbiased approach for understanding the extent, basis and function of gene expression variation between seemingly identical cells. Here we sequence single-cell RNA-seq libraries prepared from over 1,700 primary mouse bone-marrow-derived dendritic cells spanning several experimental conditions. We find substantial variation between identically stimulated dendritic cells, in both the fraction of cells detectably expressing a given messenger RNA and the transcript’s level within expressing cells. Distinct gene modules are characterized by different temporal heterogeneity profiles. In particular, a ‘core’ module of antiviral genes is expressed very early by a few ‘precocious’ cells in response to uniform stimulation with a pathogenic component, but is later activated in all cells. By stimulating cells individually in sealed microfluidic chambers, analysing dendritic cells from knockout mice, and modulating secretion and extracellular signalling, we show that this response is coordinated by interferon-mediated paracrine signalling from these precocious cells. Notably, preventing cell-to-cell communication also substantially reduces variability between cells in the expression of an early-induced ‘peaked’ inflammatory module, suggesting that paracrine signalling additionally represses part of the inflammatory program. Our study highlights the importance of cell-to-cell communication in controlling cellular heterogeneity and reveals general strategies that multicellular populations can use to establish complex dynamic responses.
Developmental fate decisions are dictated by master transcription factors (TFs) that interact with cis-regulatory elements to direct transcriptional programs. Certain malignant tumors may also depend on cellular hierarchies reminiscent of normal development but superimposed on underlying genetic aberrations. In glioblastoma (GBM), a subset of stem-like tumorpropagating cells (TPCs) appears to drive tumor progression and underlie therapeutic resistance yet remain poorly understood. Here, we identify a core set of neurodevelopmental TFs (POU3F2, SOX2, SALL2, and OLIG2) essential for GBM propagation. These TFs coordinately bind and activate TPC-specific regulatory elements and are sufficient to fully reprogram differentiated GBM cells to ‘‘induced’’ TPCs, recapitulating the epigenetic landscape and phenotype of native TPCs. We reconstruct a network model that highlights critical interactions and identifies candidate therapeutic targets for eliminating TPCs. Our study establishes the epigenetic basis of a developmental hierarchy in GBM, provides detailed insight into underlying gene regulatory programs, and suggests attendant therapeutic strategies.
Comprehensive analyses of cancer genomes promise to inform prognoses and precise cancer treatments. A major barrier, however, is inaccessibility of metastatic tissue. A potential solution is to characterize circulating tumor cells (CTCs), but this requires overcoming the challenges of isolating rare cells and sequencing low-input material. Here we report an integrated process to isolate, qualify and sequence whole exomes of CTCs with high fidelity using a census-based sequencing strategy. Power calculations suggest that mapping of >99.995% of the standard exome is possible in CTCs. We validated our process in two patients with prostate cancer, including one for whom we sequenced CTCs,
a lymph node metastasis and nine cores of the primary tumor. Fifty-one of 73 CTC mutations (70%) were present in matched tissue. Moreover, we identified 10 early trunk and 56 metastatic trunk mutations in the non-CTC tumor samples and found 90% and 73% of these mutations, respectively, in CTC exomes. This study establishes a foundation for CTC genomics in the clinic.
Recent molecular studies have shown that, even when derived from a seemingly homogenous population, individual cells can exhibit substantial differences in gene expression, protein levels and phenotypic output1–5, with important functional consequences4,5. Existing studies of cellular heterogeneity, however, have typically measured only a few pre-selected RNAs1,2 or proteins5,6 simultaneously, because genomic profiling methods3 could not be applied to single cells until very recently7–10. Here we use single-cell RNA sequencing to investigate heterogeneity in the response of mouse bone-marrow-derived dendritic cells (BMDCs) to lipopolysaccharide. We find extensive, and previously unobserved, bimodal variation in messenger RNA abundance and splicing patterns, which we validate by RNA-fluorescence in situ hybridization for select transcripts. In particular, hundreds of key immune genes are bimodally expressed across cells, surprisingly even for genes that are very highly expressed at the population average. Moreover, splicing patterns demonstrate previously unobserved levels of heterogeneity between cells. Some of the observed bimodality can be attributed to closely related, yet distinct, known maturity states of BMDCs; other portions reflect differences in the usage of key regulatory circuits. For example, we identify a module of 137 highly variable, yet co-regulated, antiviral response genes. Using cells from knockout mice, we show that variability in this module may be propagated through an interferon feedback circuit, involving the transcriptional regulators Stat2 and Irf7. Our study demonstrates the power and promise of single-cell genomics in uncovering functional diversity between cells and in deciphering cell states and circuits.
Differentiation of human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) provides a unique opportunity to study the regulatory mechanisms that facilitate cellular transitions in a human context. To that end, we performed comprehensive transcriptional and epigenetic profiling of populations derived through
directed differentiation of hESCs representing each of the three embryonic germ layers. Integration of whole-genome bisulfite sequencing, chromatin immunoprecipitation sequencing, and RNA sequencing reveals unique events associated with specification toward each lineage. Lineage specific dynamic alterations in DNA methylation and H3K4me1 are evident at putative distal regulatory elements that are frequently bound by pluripotency factors in the undifferentiated hESCs. In addition, we identified germ-layer-specific H3K27me3 enrichment at sites exhibiting high DNA methylation in the undifferentiated state. A better understanding of these initial specification events will facilitate identification of deficiencies in current approaches, leading to more faithful differentiation strategies as well as providing insights into the rewiring of human regulatory programs during cellular transitions.
Individual genetic variation affects gene responsiveness to stimuli, often by influencing complex molecular circuits. Here we combine genomic and intermediate-scale transcriptional profiling with computational methods to identify variants that affect the responsiveness of genes to stimuli (responsiveness quantitative trait loci or reQTLs) and to position these variants in molecular circuit diagrams. We apply this approach to study variation in transcriptional responsiveness to pathogen components in dendritic cells from recombinant inbred mouse strains. We identify reQTLs that correlate with particular stimuli and position them in known pathways. For example, in response to a virus-like stimulus, a trans-acting variant responds as an activator of the antiviral response; using RNA interference, we identify Rgs16 as the likely causal gene. Our approach charts an experimental and analytic path to decipher the mechanisms underlying genetic variation in circuits that control responses to stimuli.
Despite their importance, the molecular circuits that control the differentiation of naive T cells remain largely unknown. Recent studies that reconstructed regulatory networks in mammalian cells have focused on short-term responses and relied on perturbation-based approaches that cannot be readily applied to primary T cells. Here we combine transcriptional profiling at high temporal resolution, novel computational algorithms, and innovative nanowirebased perturbation tools to systematically derive and experimentally validate a model of the dynamic regulatory network that controls the differentiation of mouse TH17 cells, a proinflammatory T-cell subset that has been implicated in the pathogenesis of multiple autoimmune diseases. The TH17 transcriptional network consists of two self-reinforcing, but mutually antagonistic, modules, with 12 novel regulators, the coupled action of which may be essential for maintaining the balance between TH17 and other CD4+ T-cell subsets. Our study identifies and validates 39 regulatory factors, embeds them within a comprehensive temporal network and reveals its organizational principles; it also highlights novel drug targets for controlling TH17 cell differentiation.
Developing a detailed understanding of enzyme function in the context of an intracellular signal transduction pathway requires minimally invasive methods for probing enzyme activity in situ. Here, we describe a new method for monitoring enzyme activity in living cells by sandwiching live cells between two vertical silicon nanowire (NW) arrays. Specifically, we use the first NW array to immobilize the cells and then present enzymatic substrates intracellularly via the second NW array by utilizing the NWs’ ability to penetrate cellular membranes without affecting cells’ viability or function. This strategy, when coupled with fluorescence microscopy and mass spectrometry, enables intracellular examination of protease, phosphatase, and protein kinase activities, demonstrating the assay’s potential in uncovering the physiological roles of various enzymes.
Deciphering the neuronal code—the rules by which neuronal circuits store and process information—is a major scientific challenge. Currently, these efforts are impeded by a lack of experimental tools that are sensitive enough to quantify the strength of individual synaptic connections and also scalable enough to simultaneously measure and control a large number of mammalian neurons with single-cell resolution. Here, we report a scalable intracellular electrode platform based on vertical nanowires that allows parallel electrical interfacing to multiple mammalian neurons. Specifically, we show that our vertical nanowire electrode arrays can intracellularly record and stimulate neuronal activity in dissociated cultures of rat cortical neurons and can also be used to map multiple individual synaptic connections. The scalability of this platform, combined with its compatibility with silicon nanofabrication techniques, provides a clear path towards simultaneous, highfidelity interfacing with hundreds of individual neurons.