Measurements of DNA methylation at the single cell level are promising to revolutionise our understanding of epigenetic control of gene expression. Yet, intrinsic limitations of the technology result in very sparse coverage of CpG sites (around 5% to 20% coverage), effectively limiting the analysis repertoire to a semi-quantitative level. Here we introduce Melissa (MEthyLation Inference for Single cell Analysis), a Bayesian hierarchical method to quantify spatially-varying methylation profiles across genomic regions from single-cell bisulfite sequencing data (scBS-seq). Melissa clusters individual cells based on local methylation patterns, enabling the discovery of epigenetic differences and similarities among individual cells. The clustering also acts as an effective regularisation method for imputation of methylation on unassayed CpG sites, enabling transfer of information between individual cells. We show both on simulated and real data sets that Melissa provides accurate and biologically meaningful clusterings, and state-of-the-art imputation performance. An R implementation of Melissa is publicly available at https://github.com/andreaskapou/Melissa.
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