SCOUP – a stochastic process-based method to analyze single-cell expression data throughout differentiation

Single-cell technologies make it possible to quantify the comprehensive states of individual cells, and have the power to shed light on cellular differentiation in particular. Although several methods have been developed to fully analyze the single-cell expression data, there is still room for improvement in the analysis of differentiation.

Researchers from the University of Tokyo have developed a novel method SCOUP to elucidate differentiation process. Unlike previous dimension reduction-based approaches, SCOUP describes the dynamics of gene expression throughout differentiation directly, including the degree of differentiation of a cell (in pseudo-time) and cell fate. SCOUP is superior to previous methods with respect to pseudo-time estimation, especially for single-cell RNA-seq. SCOUP also successfully estimates cell lineage more accurately than previous method, especially for cells at an early stage of bifurcation. In addition, SCOUP can be applied to various downstream analyses. As an example, the researchers propose a novel correlation calculation method for elucidating regulatory relationships among genes. They apply this method to a single-cell RNA-seq data and detect a candidate of key regulator for differentiation and clusters in a correlation network which are not detected with conventional correlation analysis.

The conceptual diagrams of the OU process (a) and SCOUP for multi-lineage differentiation (b)


 a The OU process represents a variable (i.e., expression of a gene g in a cell c) moving toward attractor (θ g ) with Brownian motion. The value at time t satisfies the normal distribution . b Each lineage has distinct attractor (θ g1 and θ g2), and the lineage of a cell c is represented with latent value Z c . The expression of gene g in cell c is described with the mixture OU process.

Availability – SCOUP is a promising approach for further single-cell analysis and available at

Matsumoto H, Kiryu H. (2016) SCOUP: a probabilistic model based on the Ornstein-Uhlenbeck process to analyze single-cell expression data during differentiation. BMC Bioinformatics 17(1):232. [article]

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