scAnnotate: An Automated Cell Type Annotation Tool for Single-cell RNA-Sequencing Data




Ji, Xiangling

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



Single-cell RNA-sequencing (scRNA-seq) technology enables researchers to investigate a genome at the cellular level with unprecedented resolution. An organism consists of a heterogeneous collection of cell types, each of which plays a distinct role in various biological processes. Hence, the first step of scRNA-seq data analysis often is to distinguish cell types so that they can be investigated separately. Researchers have recently developed several automated cell type annotation tools based on supervised machine learning algorithms, requiring neither biological knowledge nor subjective human decisions. Dropout is a crucial characteristic of scRNA-seq data which is widely utilized in differential expression analysis but not by existing cell annotation methods. We present scAnnotate, a cell annotation tool that fully utilizes dropout information. We model every gene’s marginal distribution using a mixture model, which describes both the dropout proportion and the distribution of the non-dropout expression levels. Then, using an ensemble machine learning approach, we combine the mixture models of all genes into a single model for cell-type annotation. This combining approach can avoid estimating numerous parameters in the high-dimensional joint distribution of all genes. Using fourteen real scRNA-seq datasets, we demonstrate that scAnnotate is competitive against nine existing annotation methods, and that it accurately annotates cells when training and test data are (1) similar, (2) cross-platform, and (3) cross-species. Of the cells that are incorrectly annotated by scAnnotate, we find that a majority are different from those of other methods.



cell type annotation, single-cell RNA-sequencing, gene expression