Coordinated changes in gene expression kinetics underlie both mouse and human erythroid maturation.
BACKGROUND: Single-cell technologies are transforming biomedical research, including the recent demonstration that unspliced pre-mRNA present in single-cell RNA-Seq permits prediction of future expression states. Here we apply this RNA velocity concept to an extended timecourse dataset covering mouse gastrulation and early organogenesis. RESULTS: Intriguingly, RNA velocity correctly identifies epiblast cells as the starting point, but several trajectory predictions at later stages are inconsistent with both real-time ordering and existing knowledge. The most striking discrepancy concerns red blood cell maturation, with velocity-inferred trajectories opposing the true differentiation path. Investigating the underlying causes reveals a group of genes with a coordinated step-change in transcription, thus violating the assumptions behind current velocity analysis suites, which do not accommodate time-dependent changes in expression dynamics. Using scRNA-Seq analysis of chimeric mouse embryos lacking the major erythroid regulator Gata1, we show that genes with the step-changes in expression dynamics during erythroid differentiation fail to be upregulated in the mutant cells, thus underscoring the coordination of modulating transcription rate along a differentiation trajectory. In addition to the expected block in erythroid maturation, the Gata1-chimera dataset reveals induction of PU.1 and expansion of megakaryocyte progenitors. Finally, we show that erythropoiesis in human fetal liver is similarly characterized by a coordinated step-change in gene expression. CONCLUSIONS: By identifying a limitation of the current velocity framework coupled with in vivo analysis of mutant cells, we reveal a coordinated step-change in gene expression kinetics during erythropoiesis, with likely implications for many other differentiation processes.
Wellcome Trust (206328/Z/17/Z)
Wellcome Trust (097922/Z/11/Z)
Medical Research Council (MR/M008975/1)
Medical Research Council (MR/S036113/1)
Medical Research Council (MC_PC_17230)
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (R24DK106766)