Maxwell M, Söderlund R, Härtle S, Wattrang E
BMC Genomics 25 (1) 124 [2024-01-29; online 2024-01-29]
Single-cell transcriptomics provides means to study cell populations at the level of individual cells. In leukocyte biology this approach could potentially aid the identification of subpopulations and functions without the need to develop species-specific reagents. The present study aimed to evaluate single-cell RNA-seq as a tool for identification of chicken peripheral blood leukocytes. For this purpose, purified and thrombocyte depleted leukocytes from 4 clinically healthy hens were subjected to single-cell 3' RNA-seq. Bioinformatic analysis of data comprised unsupervised clustering of the cells, and annotation of clusters based on expression profiles. Immunofluorescence phenotyping of the cell preparations used was also performed. Computational analysis identified 31 initial cell clusters and based on expression of defined marker genes 28 cluster were identified as comprising mainly B-cells, T-cells, monocytes, thrombocytes and red blood cells. Of the remaining clusters, two were putatively identified as basophils and eosinophils, and one as proliferating cells of mixed origin. In depth analysis on gene expression profiles within and between the initial cell clusters allowed further identification of cell identity and possible functions for some of them. For example, analysis of the group of monocyte clusters revealed subclusters comprising heterophils, as well as putative monocyte subtypes. Also, novel aspects of TCRγ/δ + T-cell subpopulations could be inferred such as evidence of at least two subtypes based on e.g., different expression of transcription factors MAF, SOX13 and GATA3. Moreover, a novel subpopulation of chicken peripheral B-cells with high SOX5 expression was identified. An overall good correlation between mRNA and cell surface phenotypic cell identification was shown. Taken together, we were able to identify and infer functional aspects of both previously well known as well as novel chicken leukocyte populations although some cell types. e.g., T-cell subtypes, proved more challenging to decipher. Although this methodology to some extent is limited by incomplete annotation of the chicken genome, it definitively has benefits in chicken immunology by expanding the options to distinguish identity and functions of immune cells also without access to species specific reagents.