Review Article

Strategies for the acquisition of transcriptional and epigenetic information in single cells

Guang Li, Elda Dzilic, Nick Flores, Alice Shieh, Sean M. Wu


As the basic unit of living organisms, each single cell has unique molecular signatures and functions. Our ability to uncover the transcriptional and epigenetic signature of single cells has been hampered by the lack of tools to explore this area of research. The advent of microfluidic single cell technology along with single cell genome-wide DNA amplification methods had greatly improved our understanding of the expression variation in single cells. Transcriptional expression profile by multiplex qPCR or genome-wide RNA sequencing has enabled us to examine genes expression in single cells in different tissues. With the new tools, the identification of new cellular heterogeneity, novel marker genes, unique subpopulations, and spatial locations of each single cell can be acquired successfully. Epigenetic modifications for each single cell can also be obtained via similar methods. Based on single cell genome sequencing, single cell epigenetic information including histone modifications, DNA methylation, and chromatin accessibility have been explored and provided valuable insights regarding gene regulation and disease prognosis. In this article, we review the development of strategies to obtain single cell transcriptional and epigenetic data. Furthermore, we discuss ways in which single cell studies may help to provide greater understanding of the mechanisms of basic cardiovascular biology that will eventually lead to improvement in our ability to diagnose disease and develop new therapies.

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