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A robust nonlinear low-dimensional manifold for single cell RNA-seq data

By Archit Verma, Barbara E. Engelhardt

Posted 14 Oct 2018
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/443044

Modern developments in single cell sequencing technologies enable broad insights into cellular state. Single cell RNA sequencing (scRNA-seq) can be used to explore cell types, states, and developmental trajectories to broaden understanding of cell heterogeneity in tissues and organs. Analysis of these sparse, high-dimensional experimental results requires dimension reduction. Several methods have been developed to estimate low-dimensional embeddings for filtered and normalized single cell data. However, methods have yet to be developed for unfiltered and unnormalized count data. We present a nonlinear latent variable model with robust, heavy-tailed error and adaptive kernel learning to estimate low-dimensional nonlinear structure in scRNA-seq data. Gene expression in a single cell is modeled as a noisy draw from a Gaussian process in high dimensions from low-dimensional latent positions. This model is called the Gaussian process latent variable model (GPLVM). We model residual errors with a heavy-tailed Student's t-distribution to estimate a manifold that is robust to technical and biological noise. We compare our approach to common dimension reduction tools to highlight our model's ability to enable important downstream tasks, including clustering and inferring cell developmental trajectories, on available experimental data. We show that our robust nonlinear manifold is well suited for raw, unfiltered gene counts from high throughput sequencing technologies for visualization and exploration of cell states.

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