Perturbation analysis of spatial single cell RNA-seq with ‘augur’

Spatial single cell RNA-seq data are essentially regular single-cell RNA-seq data that have spatial coordinates associated through localization on a special capture slide. I had previously used so-called “perturbation” analysis successfully with 10X single-cell data and I wanted to apply the technique to spatial single cell to understand how a treatment affects the spatially-resolved clusters.

Here, I want to briefly describe the steps I went through to perform ‘augur’ perturbation analysis of 10X Visium Spatial single cell RNA-seq data. augur works as follows:

Augur is an R package to prioritize cell types involved in the response to an experimental perturbation within high-dimensional single-cell data. The intuition underlying Augur is that cells undergoing a profound response to a given experimental stimulus become more separable, in the space of molecular measurements, than cells that remain unaffected by the stimulus. Augur quantifies this separability by asking how readily the experimental sample labels associated with each cell (e.g., treatment vs. control) can be predicted from molecular measurements alone. This is achieved by training a machine-learning model specific to each cell type, to predict the experimental condition from which each individual cell originated. The accuracy of each cell type-specific classifier is evaluated in cross-validation, providing a quantitative basis for cell type prioritization.

I followed both the Seurat 10X Visium vignette as well as a dataset integration protocol to combine two treatment (a gene knockout, in this case) and control samples (S1 and S2). Normalization was performed by “SCTransform” as recommended for spatial RNA-seq data prior to integration. PCA, K-nearest neighbors, clustering, and uMAP were calculated as described in the Seurat vignette using default values. Cell types were assigned in collaboration with the experimentalists.

With the integrated, clustered and, assigned dataset in hand, I was ready to enter the “augur” workflow as described in the paper, with some minor tweaks. First, because this is spatial and not regular scRNA-seq, there is no “RNA” default assay to set after integration. I chose to set “SCT” as the assay instead, because this represents the normalized and scaled dataset which is what you want for input to an ML model.

```{r, celltype_priority}

DefaultAssay( <- "SCT"
augur <- Augur::calculate_auc(, label_col = "orig.ident", cell_type_col = "cell_type", 
                              n_threads = 6, 
                              rf_params = list(trees = 15, mtry = 2, min_n = NULL, importance = "accuracy"),
                              n_subsamples = 25,

Above, you can see the actual call to augur “calculate_auc” method. I found that by specifying ‘rf_params’ and reducing the number of trees, I got better separation between cell types in the AUC readout. The calculation takes about 20 minutes to run on a 2018 MacBook Pro 13 inch laptop.

When the algorithm completes, you can visualize your results. Using the vignette for regular scRNA-seq you can do this:

p1 <- plot_umap(augur,, mode = "default", palette = "Spectral")
p1 <- p1 + geom_point(size=0.1) + ggtitle("Augur Perturbation by Type (Red = Most)")
p2 <- DimPlot(, reduction = "umap", = "cell_type") + ggtitle("S1/S2 Integrated Cell Types")
p1 + p2 

The resulting plot looks like this:

Augur perturbation analysis by AUC (red is more perturbed; left) and UMAP plot of cell types (right).

This is great and helpful, but it doesn’t take advantage of the spatially resolved nature of the data. To do that, you have to modify the integrated seurat object with the augur results:

### Make a dataframe of AUC results 
auc_tab <- augur$AUC
auc_tab$rank <- c(1:9)

### Grab the cells by type and barcode 
tib <-$cell_type %>% as_tibble(rownames = "Barcode") %>% rename(cell_type=value)

### Join the AUC information to the barcode on cell_type 
tib <- tib %>% left_join(., auc_tab)

### Sanity check 
assertthat::are_equal(colnames(, tib$Barcode)

### Update the seurat object with new augur metadata$AUC <- round(tib$auc, 3)$RANK <- tib$rank

Here, I am simply pulling out the AUC results into a table by cell type. Then I get the cell type information from the seurat object and merge the AUC information into it. I just set new metadata on the seurat object to transfer information about AUC and Rank for each barcode (i.e., cell). I do a sanity check to make sure the barcodes match (they do, as expected).

Now you can plot the spatially resolved AUC information:

SpatialDimPlot(, = "AUC", cols = rev(c("#D73027", "#F46D43", "#FDAE61", "#FEE090", "#FFFFBF", "#E0F3F8", "#ABD9E9", "#74ADD1", "#4575B4")))

This takes advantage of the “” flag in the Spatial Dim Plots command to use the AUC metadata. I’m also using a custom color scheme from ColorBrewer that shades the cell types from low to high AUC along a rainbow for ease of viewing. The plot looks like this:

Spatially-resolved perturbation (AUC) of cell clusters in the WT (left) and knockout (right) samples.

Bcbio RNA-seq ‘under the hood’

Bcbio is a configuration-based pipeline manager for common NGS workflows. It uses a YAML-config file to set all of the inputs and specifications for pipeline. I’ve used bcbio for dozens of RNA-seq projects, but I’ve never known exactly what it is doing during the pipeline itself. This is because in order to see the exact commands being run you have to either dig into the code, or dig through the log files.

Digging through code is difficult because the code base is large and there are many different pieces of code that call each other. Digging through the logs is difficult when there are dozens of samples (each command is repeated dozens of times, leading to log files with thousands of lines). Well, I finally gave in and sorted through the RNA-seq pipeline command logs to identify the unique steps that bcbio (version 1.0.8) is performing in order to produce its results. I was able to identify 21 unique steps that are performed on each sample.

The difficulty of figuring out exactly what a configuration-based pipeline like bcbio is going to do is one argument in favor of using software like snakemake or nextflow to create or adapt existing pipelines, where the actual steps in the pipeline are made very explicit in “process” blocks. I’m going to be writing more about NextFlow in upcoming posts.

Of these 21 steps, 17 steps all deal with creating a BAM file and then manipulating that BAM file or calculating something about the BAM file. The remainder mainly deal with pseudo-alignment using salmon. It’s somewhat ironic that most of the pipeline and computational time is taken up with creating and manipulating BAM files since I only ever use the salmon pseudo-alignments in my downstream analysis.

Here are the 21 steps of the bcbio RNA-seq workflow (I’ve deleted the long, user-specific file paths to show just the commands):

Step 1. Align with Hisat2

hisat2 --new-summary -x bcbio-1.0.8/genomes/Hsapiens/hg38/hisat2/hg38 -p 16 --phred33 --rg-id SW872_CAMTA1_rep1 --rg PL:illumina --rg PU:1_2019-03-11_to_setup_bcbio --rg SM:SW872_CAMTA1_rep1 -1 SW872_CAMTA1_rep1_R1.fastq.gz -2 SW872_CAMTA1_rep1_R2.fastq.gz
--known-splicesite-infile bcbio-1.0.8/genomes/Hsapiens/hg38/rnaseq/ref-transcripts-splicesites.txt 

Step 2/3. Pipe to bamsormadup and redirect to sorted BAM

| bamsormadup inputformat=sam threads=12 tmpfile=work/bcbiotx/tmplsr55j/SW872_CAMTA1_rep1-sort-sorttmp-markdup 
SO=coordinate indexfilename=work/bcbiotx/tmplsr55j/SW872_CAMTA1_rep1-sort.bam.bai >  work/bcbiotx/tmplsr55j/SW872_CAMTA1_rep1-sort.bam

Step 4. Index BAM

samtools index -@ 16 work/align/SW872_TAZ4SA_rep3/SW872_TAZ4SA_rep3-sort.bam /work/bcbiotx/tmpsqOnZQ/SW872_TAZ4SA_rep3-sort.bam.bai

Step 5. Samtools sort by read names

samtools sort -@ 16 -m 2457M -O BAM -n -T work/bcbiotx/tmpqFmCaf/SW872_CAMTA1_rep1-sort.nsorted-sort -o /work/bcbiotx/tmpqFmCaf/SW872_CAMTA1_rep1-sort.nsorted.bam /work/align/SW872_CAMTA1_rep1/SW872_CAMTA1_rep1-sort.bam

Step 6. Sambamba view to select only primary alignments

sambamba view -t 16 -f bam -F "not secondary_alignment" work/align/SW872_CAMTA1_rep1/SW872_CAMTA1_rep1-sort.nsorted.bam> work/bcbiotx/tmp0zhZuj/SW872_CAMTA1_rep1-sort.nsorted.primary.bam

Step 7. FeatureCounts to count primary alignments in BAM

featureCounts -a /Dedicated/IIHG-argon/bcbio-1.0.8/genomes/Hsapiens/hg38/rnaseq/ref-transcripts.gtf -o work/bcbiotx/tmp77coEk/SW872_CAMTA1_rep1.counts -s 0 -p -B -C work/align/SW872_CAMTA1_rep1/SW872_CAMTA1_rep1-sort.nsorted.primary.bam

Step 8. Gffread to write a fasta file with spliced exons

gffread -g /Dedicated/IIHG-argon/bcbio-1.0.8/genomes/Hsapiens/hg38/seq/hg38.fa -w work/bcbiotx/tmpNpBGRC/hg38.fa.tmp /Dedicated/IIHG-argon/bcbio-1.0.8/genomes/Hsapiens/hg38/rnaseq/ref-transcripts.gtf

Step 9. Build the salmon index

salmon index -k 31 -p 16 -i /work/bcbiotx/tmpTQDS7X/hg38 -t work/inputs/transcriptome/hg38.fa

Step 10. Pseudo-alignment and quantification

salmon quant -l IU -i work/salmon/index/hg38 -p 16 --gcBias -o work/bcbiotx/tmpE_RRDN/quant   -1 <(gzip -cd /merged/SW872_CAMTA1_rep1_R1.fastq.gz) -2 <(gzip -cd /merged/SW872_CAMTA1_rep1_R2.fastq.gz) --numBootstraps 30

Step 11. Convert salmon output to sleuth format

Rscript -e 'library("wasabi"); prepare_fish_for_sleuth(c("work/bcbiotx/tmpE_RRDN/quant"))'

Step 12. Downsample BAM file with samtools view

samtools view -O BAM -@ 16 -o work/bcbiotx/tmphaXqSf/SW872_CAMTA1_rep1-sort-downsample.bam -s 42.269 work/align/SW872_CAMTA1_rep1/SW872_CAMTA1_rep1-sort.bam

Step 13. FASTQC on downsampled BAM

export PATH=/Dedicated/IIHG-argon/bcbio-1.0.8/anaconda/bin:$PATH &&  /Dedicated/IIHG-argon/bcbio-1.0.8/galaxy/../anaconda/bin/fastqc -d work/qc/SW872_CAMTA1_rep1/bcbiotx/tmpgOv610 -t 16 --extract -o work/qc/SW872_CAMTA1_rep1/bcbiotx/tmpgOv610 -f bam work/qc/SW872_CAMTA1_rep1/SW872_CAMTA1_rep1-sort-downsample.bam

Step 14. Run Qualimap RNAseq on BAM

unset DISPLAY && export PATH=/Dedicated/IIHG-argon/bcbio-1.0.8/anaconda/bin:$PATH &&  /Dedicated/IIHG-argon/bcbio-1.0.8/galaxy/../anaconda/bin/qualimap rnaseq -outdir work/bcbiotx/tmpACJXgn/SW872_CAMTA1_rep1 -a proportional -bam work/align/SW872_CAMTA1_rep1/SW872_CAMTA1_rep1-sort.bam -p non-strand-specific -gtf /Dedicated/IIHG-argon/bcbio-1.0.8/genomes/Hsapiens/hg38/rnaseq/ref-transcripts.gtf --java-mem-size=59g

Step 15. A SED command (not sure exactly what it does)

sed -i 's/bam file = .*/bam file = SW872_CAMTA1_rep1.bam/' work/bcbiotx/tmpACJXgn/SW872_CAMTA1_rep1/rnaseq_qc_results.txt

Step 16. Mark duplicates on the BAM file

bammarkduplicates tmpfile=work/bcbiotx/tmpNdl3wy/SW872_CAMTA1_rep1-sort-dedup-markdup markthreads=16 I=work/align/SW872_CAMTA1_rep1/SW872_CAMTA1_rep1-sort.bam O=work/bcbiotx/tmprVQeKM/SW872_CAMTA1_rep1-sort-dedup.bam

Step 17. Index de-duplicated BAM file

samtools index -@ 16 work/align/SW872_CAMTA1_rep1/SW872_CAMTA1_rep1-sort-dedup.bam work/bcbiotx/tmpFAzLLT/SW872_CAMTA1_rep1-sort-dedup.bam.bai

Step 18. Use Sambamba view to create duplicate metrics

sambamba view --nthreads 16 --count -F 'duplicate and not unmapped' work/align/SW872_CAMTA1_rep1/SW872_CAMTA1_rep1-sort-dedup.bam >> work/bcbiotx/tmpJS4s1r/dup_metrics.txt

Step 19. Use Sambamba to create mapping metrics

sambamba view --nthreads 16 --count -F 'not unmapped' work/align/SW872_CAMTA1_rep1/SW872_CAMTA1_rep1-sort-dedup.bam >> work/bcbiotx/tmpJS4s1r/dup_metrics.txt

Step 20. Samtools stats on sorted BAM

samtools stats -@ 16 work/align/SW872_CAMTA1_rep1/SW872_CAMTA1_rep1-sort.bam > /work/bcbiotx/tmpUPSiOz/SW872_CAMTA1_rep1.txt

Step 21. Samtools idxstats on sorted BAM

samtools idxstats work/align/SW872_CAMTA1_rep1/SW872_CAMTA1_rep1-sort.bam > work/bcbiotx/tmpSKFNZQ/SW872_CAMTA1_rep1-idxstats.txt

To impute or not to impute scRNA-seq datasets?

Single-cell RNA-Seq methods, which sequence and barcode the transcripts within individual cells in a sample, hold enormous promise for understanding transcriptional networks in development and disease. Single-cell investigation of biological phenomena is taking the life sciences world by storm. For example, Science magazine selected single-cell methods as the 2018 “Breakthrough of the Year.”

Closer to home, our bioinformatics group here at the University of Iowa is also seeing a rapid increase in the number of scRNA-seq projects in the research pipeline. Yet with all of this interest and funding, scRNA-seq is still an emerging field with little agreement on best practices.

We see evidence of this when considering one of the main problems of scRNA-seq datasets: dropouts. ‘Dropouts’ are zero-values in the data arising from technical and biological noise. Often the dropout rate can reach up to 90% or more, degrading the ability of the analysis to detect fine structure in the data and low- and moderately expressed DE genes between cell types.

One way to combat this problem is to borrow information across genes within a sample and use that to predict imputed expression values for the missing genes. Another related approach is called data ‘smoothing,’ that attempts to lower the noise in observed values. There are several methods (MAGIC, scImpute, DrImpute, and SAVER) that have been published recently that attempt to do one or both of these approaches. While the authors of each method focus on the advantages of imputation, there can also be drawbacks caused by an increase in false-positives and loss of specificity.

A recent paper by Andrews and Hemberg address the potential drawbacks with imputation in a very concise and clear way using both simulated and real-world data. Figure 1 (below) from this paper shows very clearly the perils of doing imputation on false positive rates and spurious gene-gene correlations.

Performance on simulated scRNA-seq data

Figure 1A. Gene-gene correlations before (left) and after imputation with five methods (right). Red bars are highly-expressed DE genes, and blue bars are lowly-expressed DE genes. Gray bar are non-DE genes in this simulated dataset.

Somewhat dramatically, DrImpute and MAGIC introduce strong false positive correlations, while SAVER only strengthens existing correlations between lowly expressed DE genes. As you can see in part B of this figure below, parameter tuning also has a dramatic effect on the false positive rate in some cases. Increasing the k-neighbors for MAGIC and KNN methods increases smoothing and also false positives. SAVER and scImpute are relatively immune to changes in FPR with parameter space.

Figure 1B. False positive gene correlation rates as a function of algorithm parameters.

You can’t have your cake and eat it, too

In this next figure, the authors look at the trade-off between sensitivity and specificity in imputation methods on simulated datasets. It shows clearly that any improvements to sensitivity of DE gene detection come at a significant cost of specificity, and vice versa.

Detection of DE genes in simulated data.

The authors go on to show that on real data, every method including SAVER generates large numbers of false positives. In summary, imputation, while potentially promising, is limited owing to the lack of an independent reference (as in the case of GWAS imputation methods) to impute from. Since single-cell imputation methods rely only on the dataset itself, one cannot escape the sensitivity/specificity tradeoff and false-positive problem.

Gene expression boxplots with ggplot2

The ubiquitous RNAseq analysis package, DESeq2, is a very useful and convenient way to conduct DE gene analyses.  However, it lacks some useful plotting tools.   For example, there is no convenience function in the library for making nice-looking boxplots from normalized gene expression data.

There are other packages one can rely on, for example ‘pcaExplorer’, but I like a simple approach sometimes to plot just a couple of genes.  So below I show you how to quickly plot your favorite gene using only ggplot2 (there is no “one weird trick” though…):

traf1_counts <- counts(ddsTxi['ENSG00000056558',], normalized = TRUE)
m <- list(counts = as.numeric(traf1_counts), group = as.factor(samples$group))
m <- as.tibble(m)
q <- ggplot(m, aes(group, counts)) + geom_boxplot() + geom_jitter(width = 0.1)
q <- q + labs(x = "Experimental Group", y = "Normalized Counts ", title = "Normalized Expression of TRAF1")
q <- q + scale_x_discrete(labels=c("00hn" = "PMN, 0hrs", "06hn" = "PMN, 6hrs",
                                   "06hy" = "PMN+Hp, 6hrs", "24hn" = "PMN, 24hrs", "24hy" = "PMN+Hp, 24hrs"))

As you can see above, first we must grab the normalized counts at the row corresponding with the Traf1 Ensembl ID using the ‘counts‘ function that operates on the ‘ddsTxi’ DESeqDataSet object.

In order to create a dataframe (well, a tibble to be specific) for plotting, we first create a list (‘m’) that combines the counts (as a numeric vector) and metadata group.  These two vectors will form the columns of the tibble for plotting, and we must give them names (i.e., “counts” and “group”) so the tibble conversion doesn’t complain.

The list, m, is then converted to a tibble with ‘as.tibble‘ and plotted with ggplot2, using an ‘aes(group,counts)‘ aesthetic plus a boxplot aesthetic.  The rest of the code is just modifying axis labels and tickmarks.  The final product looks like this:

Boxplot of normalized Traf1 expression in 5 different conditions (3 replicates each).