High-dimensional single-cell cytometry is routinely used to characterize patient responses to cancer immunotherapy and other treatments. This has produced a wealth of datasets ripe for exploration but whose biological and technical heterogeneity make them difficult to analyze with current tools. We introduce a new interpretable machine learning method for single-cell mass and flow cytometry studies, FAUST, that robustly performs unbiased cell population discovery and annotation. FAUST processes data on a per-sample basis and returns biologically interpretable cell phenotypes that can be compared across studies, making it well-suited for the analysis and integration of complex datasets. We demonstrate how FAUST can be used for candidate biomarker discovery and validation by applying it to a flow cytometry dataset from a Merkel cell carcinoma anti-PD-1 trial and discover new CD4+ and CD8+ effector-memory T cell correlates of outcome co-expressing PD-1, HLA-DR, and CD28. We then use FAUST to validate these correlates in an independent CyTOF dataset from a published metastatic melanoma trial. Importantly, existing state-of-the-art computational discovery approaches as well as prior manual analysis did not detect these or any other statistically significant T cell sub-populations associated with anti-PD-1 treatment in either data set. We further validate our methodology by using FAUST to replicate the discovery of a previously reported myeloid correlate in a different published melanoma trial, and validate the correlate by identifying it de novo in two additional independent trials. FAUST's phenotypic annotations can be used to perform cross-study data integration in the presence of heterogeneous data and diverse immunophenotyping staining panels, enabling hypothesis-driven inference about cell sub-population abundance through a multivariate modeling framework we call Phenotypic and Functional Differential Abundance (PFDA). We demonstrate this approach on data from myeloid and T cell panels across multiple trials. Together, these results establish FAUST as a powerful and versatile new approach for unbiased discovery in single-cell cytometry.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
- Immunology and Microbiology(all)
- Pharmacology, Toxicology and Pharmaceutics(all)