Am J Hum Genet 2015 Jan 31;96(1):70-80. Epub 2014 Dec 31.
Department of Genetic Medicine and Development, University of Geneva, 1211 Geneva, Switzerland; Institute of Genetics and Genomics of Geneva, 1211 Geneva, Switzerland; Service of Genetic Medicine, University Hospitals of Geneva, 1211 Geneva, Switzerland. Electronic address:
The study of gene expression in mammalian single cells via genomic technologies now provides the possibility to investigate the patterns of allelic gene expression. We used single-cell RNA sequencing to detect the allele-specific mRNA level in 203 single human primary fibroblasts over 133,633 unique heterozygous single-nucleotide variants (hetSNVs). We observed that at the snapshot of analyses, each cell contained mostly transcripts from one allele from the majority of genes; indeed, 76.4% of the hetSNVs displayed stochastic monoallelic expression in single cells. Remarkably, adjacent hetSNVs exhibited a haplotype-consistent allelic ratio; in contrast, distant sites located in two different genes were independent of the haplotype structure. Moreover, the allele-specific expression in single cells correlated with the abundance of the cellular transcript. We observed that genes expressing both alleles in the majority of the single cells at a given time point were rare and enriched with highly expressed genes. The relative abundance of each allele in a cell was controlled by some regulatory mechanisms given that we observed related single-cell allelic profiles according to genes. Overall, these results have direct implications in cellular phenotypic variability.