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Modelling Cell-cell Interactions From Spatial Molecular Data With Spatial Variance Component Analysis

Damien Arnol, Denis Schapiro, Bernd Bodenmiller, Julio Saez-Rodriguez, Oliver Stegle

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AbstractTechnological advances allow for assaying multiplexed spatially resolved RNA and protein expression profiling of individual cells, thereby capturing physiological tissue contexts of single cell variation. While methods for the high-throughput generation of spatial expression profiles are increasingly accessible, computational methods for studying the relevance of the spatial organization of tissues on cell-cell heterogeneity are only beginning to emerge. Here, we present spatial variance component analysis (SVCA), a computational framework for the analysis of spatial molecular data. SVCA enables quantifying the effect of cell-cell interactions, as well as environmental and intrinsic cell features on the expression levels of individual genes or proteins. In application to a breast cancer Imaging Mass Cytometry dataset, our model allows for robustly estimating spatial variance signatures, identifying cell-cell interactions as a major driver of expression heterogeneity. Finally, we apply SVCA to high-dimensional imaging-derived RNA data, where we identify molecular pathways that are linked to cell-cell interactions.