DUBStepR – a scalable correlation-based feature selection method for accurately clustering single-cell data

Feature selection (marker gene selection) is widely believed to improve clustering accuracy, and is thus a key component of single cell clustering pipelines. Existing feature selection methods perform inconsistently across datasets, occasionally even resulting in poorer clustering accuracy than without feature selection. Moreover, existing methods ignore information contained in gene-gene correlations.

Researchers at the Genome Institute of Singapore have developed DUBStepR (Determining the Underlying Basis using Stepwise Regression), a feature selection algorithm that leverages gene-gene correlations with a novel measure of inhomogeneity in feature space, termed the Density Index (DI). Despite selecting a relatively small number of genes, DUBStepR substantially outperformed existing single-cell feature selection methods across diverse clustering benchmarks. Additionally, DUBStepR was the only method to robustly deconvolve T and NK heterogeneity by identifying disease-associated common and rare cell types and subtypes in PBMCs from rheumatoid arthritis patients. DUBStepR is scalable to over a million cells, and can be straightforwardly applied to other data types such as single-cell ATAC-seq. The researchers propose DUBStepR as a general-purpose feature selection solution for accurately clustering single-cell data.

Fig. 1

After filtering out mitochondrial, ribosomal, spike-in, and pseudogenes, DUBStepR constructs a GGC matrix and bins genes by expression to compute their correlation range z-scores, which are used to select well-correlated genes. DUBStepR then performs stepwise regression on the GGC matrix to identify a minimally redundant subset of seed features, which are then expanded by adding correlated features (guilt-by-association). The optimal feature set size is determined using the Density Index metric.

Ranjan B, Sun W, Park J, Mishra K, Schmidt F, Xie R, Alipour F, Singhal V, Joanito I, Honardoost MA, Yong JMY, Koh ET, Leong KP, Rayan NA, Lim MGL, Prabhakar S. (2021) DUBStepR is a scalable correlation-based feature selection method for accurately clustering single-cell data. Nat Commun 12(1):5849. [article]

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