Co-expression analysis has been employed to predict gene function, identify functional modules, and determine tumor subtypes. Previous co-expression analysis was mainly conducted at bulk tissue level. It is unclear whether co-expression analysis at the single-cell level will provide novel insights into transcriptional regulation. Here we developed a computational approach to compare glioblastoma expression profiles at the single-cell level with those obtained from bulk tumors. We found that the co-expressed genes observed in single cells and bulk tumors have little overlap and show distinct characteristics. The co-expressed genes identified in bulk tumors tend to have similar biological functions, and are enriched for intrachromosomal interactions with synchronized promoter activity. In contrast, single-cell co-expressed genes are enriched for known protein-protein interactions, and are regulated through interchromosomal interactions. Moreover, gene members of some protein complexes are co-expressed only at the bulk level, while those of other complexes are co-expressed at both single-cell and bulk levels. Finally, we identified a set of co-expressed genes that can predict the survival of glioblastoma patients. Our study highlights that comparative analyses of single-cell and bulk gene expression profiles enable us to identify functional modules that are regulated at different levels and hold great translational potential.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Modeling and Simulation
- Molecular Biology
- Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
- Computational Theory and Mathematics