Gothenburg University, Sweden
Even in an apparently homogeneous population of cells there are considerable differences between individual cells. A response to a stimulus of a cell population or tissue may be consistent and gradual while the single-cell response might be binary and apparently irregular. The origin of this variability may be preprogrammed or stochastic and a study of this phenomenon will require quantitative measurements of individual cells. Here, we describe a method to collect dispersed single cells either by glass capillaries or flow cytometry, followed by quantitative mRNA profiling using reverse transcription and real-time PCR. We present a single cell lysis protocol and optimized priming conditions for reverse transcription. The large cell-to-cell variability in single-cell gene expression measurements excludes it from standard data analysis. Correlation studies can be used to find common regulatory elements that are indistinguishable at the population level. Data from human embryonic stem cells, mouse β-cells and primary astrocytes will be presented and used to demonstrate various aspects of gene expression profiling in individual cells. Single-cell gene expression profiling has the potential to become common practice in many laboratories and a powerful research tool for deeper understanding of molecular mechanisms.
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