Oct 16, 2019

How Could Single Cell Analysis Advance Neuroscience Research?

Olivia Habern

The Society for Neuroscience is hosting it’s 49th Annual Meeting in Chicago, IL, from October 19 to 23. The world’s leading neuroscientists will attend to present their cutting-edge research that aims to resolve the heterogeneity and functionality of the central nervous system, in both health and disease.

The human brain is a complex system with diverse cell types and functions, vast interconnectivity, and extensive plasticity. Research techniques that average signal across a whole population of cells, or those that rely on just a few molecular markers, cannot yield a complete picture of this complexity. To distinguish rare cell types or significant molecular characteristics of the sample under study, researchers need to explore samples and individual cells across multiple dimensions.

Work from researchers like Dmitry Velmeshev and his colleagues from UCSF point to the emerging role of single cell genomic profiling to offer that multidimensional view of the nervous system. They used single cell RNA-seq to examine a total of 104,559 cells from the cortices of 15 patients with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and 16 controls (1). They identified gene expression changes in microglia and upper layer excitatory neurons, including genes involved in synaptic function and neural development, providing insight into the cell type and molecular changes involved in this disorder.

As their work demonstrates, single cell gene expression profiling yields a comprehensive picture of the nervous system by examining cell-to-cell differences in RNA transcripts, allowing researchers to classify complex neural cell populations by cell type, including novel or rare cell types, and interrogate the molecular mechanisms that underlie normal development, neural function, disease, and injury. Single cell assays for accessible chromatin, which measure the degree to which specific regions of chromatin are accessible to regulatory factors, have also proven essential to understanding how epigenetics contributes to the complex cellular functionality and dynamism of the brain.

With these unbiased, high-resolution approaches, researchers can better understand both normal neural development and disease phenotypes, even for complex, multifactorial neurological diseases that have evaded understanding with traditional technologies.

To learn more about these single cell approaches, including 10x Genomics’ Chromium Single Cell Gene Expression and Chromium Single Cell ATAC Solutions, visit our 10x Genomics Booth #708 at SfN 2019 to discuss what you can do with our single cell solutions. Or, go to for more information.

Have a wonderful time at SfN 2019!

  1. D. Velmeshev, L. Schirmer, D. Jung, M. Haeussler, Y. Perez et al. Single-cell genomics identifies cell type–specific molecular changes in autism. Science. 364, 685–689 (2019).