Comprehensive evaluation of transcriptome-based cell-type quantification methods for immuno-oncology

Comprehensive evaluation of transcriptome-based cell-type quantification methods for immuno-oncology

Abstract

MotivationThe composition and density of immune cells in the tumor microenvironment (TME) profoundly influence tumor progression and success of anti-cancer therapies. Flow cytometry, immunohistochemistry staining or single-cell sequencing are often unavailable such that we rely on computational methods to estimate the immune-cell composition from bulk RNA-sequencing (RNA-seq) data. Various methods have been proposed recently, yet their capabilities and limitations have not been evaluated systematically. A general guideline leading the research community through cell type deconvolution is missing.ResultsWe developed a systematic approach for benchmarking such computational methods and assessed the accuracy of tools at estimating nine different immune- and stromal cells from bulk RNA-seq samples. We used a single-cell RNA-seq dataset of ∼11 000 cells from the TME to simulate bulk samples of known cell type proportions, and validated the results using independent, publicly available gold-standard estimates. This allowed us to analyze and condense the results of more than a hundred thousand predictions to provide an exhaustive evaluation across seven computational methods over nine cell types and ∼1800 samples from five simulated and real-world datasets. We demonstrate that computational deconvolution performs at high accuracy for well-defined cell-type signatures and propose how fuzzy cell-type signatures can be improved. We suggest that future efforts should be dedicated to refining cell population definitions and finding reliable signatures.Availability and implementationA snakemake pipeline to reproduce the benchmark is available at https://github.com/grst/immune_deconvolution_benchmark. An R package allows the community to perform integrated deconvolution using different methods (https://grst.github.io/immunedeconv).

Gregor Sturm
MSc Student