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Seurat - Guided Clustering Tutorial

Setup the Seurat Object

For this tutorial, we will be analyzing the a dataset of Peripheral Blood Mononuclear Cells (PBMC) freely available from 10X Genomics. There are 2,700 single cells that were sequenced on the Illumina NextSeq 500. The raw data can be found here.

We start by reading in the data. The Read10X function reads in the output of the cellranger pipeline from 10X, returning a unique molecular identified (UMI) count matrix. The values in this matrix represent the number of molecules for each feature (i.e. gene; row) that are detected in each cell (column).

We next use the count matrix to create a Seurat object. The object serves as a container that contains both data (like the count matrix) and analysis (like PCA, or clustering results) for a single-cell dataset. For a technical discussion of the Seurat object structure, check out our GitHub Wiki. For example, the count matrix is stored in pbmc[["RNA"]]@counts.

library(dplyr)
library(Seurat)

# Load the PBMC dataset
pbmc.data <- Read10X(data.dir = "../data/pbmc3k/filtered_gene_bc_matrices/hg19/")
# Initialize the Seurat object with the raw (non-normalized data).
pbmc <- CreateSeuratObject(counts = pbmc.data, project = "pbmc3k", min.cells = 3, min.features = 200)
pbmc
## An object of class Seurat 
## 13714 features across 2700 samples within 1 assay 
## Active assay: RNA (13714 features)

What does data in a count matrix look like?

# Lets examine a few genes in the first thirty cells
pbmc.data[c("CD3D", "TCL1A", "MS4A1"), 1:30]
## 3 x 30 sparse Matrix of class "dgCMatrix"
##                                                                    
## CD3D  4 . 10 . . 1 2 3 1 . . 2 7 1 . . 1 3 . 2  3 . . . . . 3 4 1 5
## TCL1A . .  . . . . . . 1 . . . . . . . . . . .  . 1 . . . . . . . .
## MS4A1 . 6  . . . . . . 1 1 1 . . . . . . . . . 36 1 2 . . 2 . . . .

The . values in the matrix represent 0s (no molecules detected). Since most values in an scRNA-seq matrix are 0, Seurat uses a sparse-matrix representation whenever possible. This results in significant memory and speed savings for Drop-seq/inDrop/10x data.

dense.size <- object.size(as.matrix(pbmc.data))
dense.size
## 709548272 bytes
sparse.size <- object.size(pbmc.data)
sparse.size
## 29861992 bytes
dense.size/sparse.size
## 23.8 bytes

 

Standard pre-processing workflow

The steps below encompass the standard pre-processing workflow for scRNA-seq data in Seurat. These represent the selection and filtration of cells based on QC metrics, data normalization and scaling, and the detection of highly variable features.

QC and selecting cells for further analysis

Seurat allows you to easily explore QC metrics and filter cells based on any user-defined criteria. A few QC metrics commonly used by the community include

  • The number of unique genes detected in each cell.
    • Low-quality cells or empty droplets will often have very few genes
    • Cell doublets or multiplets may exhibit an aberrantly high gene count
  • Similarly, the total number of molecules detected within a cell (correlates strongly with unique genes)
  • The percentage of reads that map to the mitochondrial genome
    • Low-quality / dying cells often exhibit extensive mitochondrial contamination
    • We calculate mitochondrial QC metrics with the PercentageFeatureSet function, which calculates the percentage of counts originating from a set of features
    • We use the set of all genes starting with MT- as a set of mitochondrial genes
# The [[ operator can add columns to object metadata. This is a great place to stash QC stats
pbmc[["percent.mt"]] <- PercentageFeatureSet(pbmc, pattern = "^MT-")

Where are QC metrics stored in Seurat?

  • The number of unique genes and total molecules are automatically calculated during CreateSeuratObject
    • You can find them stored in the object meta data
# Show QC metrics for the first 5 cells
head(pbmc@meta.data, 5)
orig.ident nCount_RNA nFeature_RNA percent.mt
AAACATACAACCAC pbmc3k 2419 779 3.0177759
AAACATTGAGCTAC pbmc3k 4903 1352 3.7935958
AAACATTGATCAGC pbmc3k 3147 1129 0.8897363
AAACCGTGCTTCCG pbmc3k 2639 960 1.7430845
AAACCGTGTATGCG pbmc3k 980 521 1.2244898

 

In the example below, we visualize QC metrics, and use these to filter cells.

  • We filter cells that have unique feature counts over 2,500 or less than 200
  • We filter cells that have >5% mitochondrial counts
# Visualize QC metrics as a violin plot
VlnPlot(pbmc, features = c("nFeature_RNA", "nCount_RNA", "percent.mt"), ncol = 3)