Single-cell RNA-sequencing (scRNA-seq) is being used extensively to measure the mRNA expression of individual cells from deconstructed tissues, organs, and even entire organisms to generate cell atlas references, leading to discoveries of novel cell types and deeper insight into biological trajectories. These massive datasets are usually collected from many samples using different scRNA-seq technology platforms, including the popular SMART-Seq2 (SS2) and 10X platforms. Inherent heterogeneities between platforms, tissues, and other batch effects makes scRNA-seq data difficult to compare and integrate, especially in large-scale cell atlas efforts; yet, accurate integration is essential for gaining deeper insights into cell biology. Through comprehensive data exploration, we found that accurate integration is often hampered by differences in cell-type compositions. Herein we describe FIRM, an algorithm that addresses this problem and achieves efficient and accurate integration of heterogeneous scRNA-seq datasets across multiple tissue types, platforms, and experimental batches. We applied FIRM to numerous large-scale scRNA-seq datasets from mouse, mouse lemur, and human, comparing its performance in dataset integration with other state-of-the-art methods. FIRM-integrated datasets show accurate mixing of shared cell type identities and superior preservation of original structure without overcorrection, generating robust integrated datasets for downstream exploration and analysis. It is also a facile way to transfer cell type labels and annotations from one dataset to another, making it a reliable and versatile tool for scRNA-seq analysis, especially for cell atlas data integration.
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