Single Cell RNA-Seq and Machine Learning Reveal Novel Subpopulations in Low-Grade Inflammatory Monocytes With Unique Regulatory Circuits


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Subclinical doses of LPS (SD-LPS) are known to cause low-grade inflammatory activation of monocytes, which could lead to inflammatory diseases including atherosclerosis and metabolic syndrome. Sodium 4-phenylbutyrate is a potential therapeutic compound which can reduce the inflammation caused by SD-LPS. To understand the gene regulatory networks of these processes, we have generated scRNA-seq data from mouse monocytes treated with these compounds and identified 11 novel cell clusters. We have developed a machine learning method to integrate scRNA-seq, ATAC-seq, and binding motifs to characterize gene regulatory networks underlying these cell clusters. Using guided regularized random forest and feature selection, our method achieved high performance and outperformed a traditional enrichment-based method in selecting candidate regulatory genes. Our method is particularly efficient in selecting a few candidate genes to explain observed expression pattern. In particular, among 531 candidate TFs, our method achieves an auROC of 0.961 with only 10 motifs. Finally, we found two novel subpopulations of monocyte cells in response to SD-LPS and we confirmed our analysis using independent flow cytometry experiments. Our results suggest that our new machine learning method can select candidate regulatory genes as potential targets for developing new therapeutics against low grade inflammation.



monocyte, Machine learning, inflammation, regulatory motifs, single cell analysis