Identification of vulnerable cell types in major brain disorders using single cell transcriptomes and expression weighted cell type enrichment

Nathan G. Skene, Seth G N Grant*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

The cell types that trigger the primary pathology in many brain diseases remain largely unknown. One route to understanding the primary pathological cell type for a particular disease is to identify the cells expressing susceptibility genes. Although this is straightforward for monogenic conditions where the causative mutation may alter expression of a cell type specific marker, methods are required for the common polygenic disorders. We developed the Expression Weighted Cell Type Enrichment (EWCE) method that uses single cell transcriptomes to generate the probability distribution associated with a gene list having an average level of expression within a cell type. Following validation, we applied EWCE to human genetic data from cases of epilepsy, Schizophrenia, Autism, Intellectual Disability, Alzheimer's disease, Multiple Sclerosis and anxiety disorders. Genetic susceptibility primarily affected microglia in Alzheimer's and Multiple Sclerosis; was shared between interneurons and pyramidal neurons in Autism and Schizophrenia; while intellectual disabilities and epilepsy were attributable to a range of cell-types, with the strongest enrichment in interneurons. We hypothesized that the primary cell type pathology could trigger secondary changes in other cell types and these could be detected by applying EWCE to transcriptome data from diseased tissue. In Autism, Schizophrenia and Alzheimer's disease we find evidence of pathological changes in all of the major brain cell types. These findings give novel insight into the cellular origins and progression in common brain disorders. The methods can be applied to any tissue and disorder and have applications in validating mouse models.

Original languageEnglish
Article number16
JournalFrontiers in Neuroscience
Issue numberJAN
Publication statusPublished - 27 Jan 2016

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Anxiety
  • Autism
  • Genetics
  • RNA-seq
  • Schizophrenia
  • Single cell genomics
  • Transcriptome


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