Single-cell technologies for monitoring immune systems

Nature Immunology (Impact Factor: 20). 01/2014; 15(2):128-35. DOI: 10.1038/ni.2796
Source: PubMed


The complex heterogeneity of cells, and their interconnectedness with each other, are major challenges to identifying clinically relevant measurements that reflect the state and capability of the immune system. Highly multiplexed, single-cell technologies may be critical for identifying correlates of disease or immunological interventions as well as for elucidating the underlying mechanisms of immunity. Here we review limitations of bulk measurements and explore advances in single-cell technologies that overcome these problems by expanding the depth and breadth of functional and phenotypic analysis in space and time. The geometric increases in complexity of data make formidable hurdles for exploring, analyzing and presenting results. We summarize recent approaches to making such computations tractable and discuss challenges for integrating heterogeneous data obtained using these single-cell technologies.

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    • "This results in biological noise, which can be further enhanced by differences in environmental stimuli, variations in cell state and polyfunctional responses[2]. This is an essential characteristic of cellular systems and must be assessed by analyzing individual cell behavior instead of population-averaged measurements, which could mask rare events[3,4]. Furthermore, the dynamic nature of biological processes occurs at varying time scales (for e.g., early vs. delayed and transient vs. stable responses), requiring continuous real-time evaluation of single cell outcomes as opposed to end-point analysis. "

    Full-text · Article · Jul 2015
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    • "For immune cells, like T cells, subsets are defined by expression and release properties with direct importance for supported immune functions. Still single-cell technologies are on the verge to be required—and to be at hand—for covering substantial contributions of rare subsets and to explore the individual phenotypic variability for identified cells at a given time point and with kinetic resolution (Shalek et al., 2013; Chattopadhyay et al., 2014). "
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    ABSTRACT: Microglia are the principal resident innate immune cells of the CNS. Their contributions to the normal development of the CNS, the maintenance and plasticity of neuronal networks and the safeguarding of proper functionality are becoming more and more evident. Microglia also survey the tissue homeostasis to respond rapidly to exogenous and endogenous threats, primarily with a protective outcome. However, excessive acute activation, chronic activity or an improper adaptation of their functional performance can foster neuropathologies. A key to the versatile response behavior of these cells is their ability to commit to reactive phenotypes, which reveal enormous complexity. Yet the respective profiles of induced genes and installed functions may build up on heterogeneous contributions of cellular subsets. Here, we discuss findings and concepts that consider the variety of microglial activities and response options as being based-at least in part-on a diversity of the engaged cells. Whether it is the production of proinflammatory cytokines, clearance of tissue debris, antigen presentation or the ability to sense neurotransmitters, microglial cells present with an unanticipated heterogeneity of their constitutive and inducible features. While the organizational principles of this heterogeneity are still largely unknown, functional implications are already perceptible.
    Full-text · Article · Apr 2014 · Frontiers in Cellular Neuroscience
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    • "Although this arguably could be achieved by conventional wide-field imaging, it is greatly facilitated by microchip-based approaches like the one used here. While there are several reports of heterogeneity of NK cells in terms of receptor expression and how that is related to activation, maturation or level of education, little is currently known about how this is reflected in migration dynamics, conjugate formation, and killing at the single-cell level (33). We foresee that methods allowing studies of single cells over time will become more widespread and help bridge the existing gaps in understanding of the behavior of individual cells and the function of cell populations. "
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    ABSTRACT: Natural killer (NK) cells serve as one of the first lines of defense against viral infections and transformed cells. NK cell cytotoxicity is not dependent on antigen presentation by target cells, but is dependent on integration of activating and inhibitory signals triggered by receptor-ligand interactions formed at a tight intercellular contact between the NK and target cell, i.e., the immune synapse. We have studied the single-cell migration behavior and target-cell contact dynamics of resting and interleukin (IL)-2-activated human peripheral blood NK cells. Small populations of NK cells and target cells were confined in microwells and imaged by fluorescence microscopy for >8 h. Only the IL-2-activated population of NK cells showed efficient cytotoxicity against the human embryonic kidney 293T target cells. We found that although the average migration speeds were comparable, activated NK cells showed significantly more dynamic migration behavior, with more frequent transitions between periods of low and high motility. Resting NK cells formed fewer and weaker contacts with target cells, which manifested as shorter conjugation times and in many cases a complete lack of post-conjugation attachment to target cells. Activated NK cells were approximately twice as big as the resting cells, displayed a more migratory phenotype, and were more likely to employ "motile scanning" of the target-cell surface during conjugation. Taken together, our experiments quantify, at the single-cell level, how activation by IL-2 leads to altered NK cell cytotoxicity, migration behavior, and contact dynamics.
    Full-text · Article · Mar 2014 · Frontiers in Immunology
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