Methodologies for Following EMT In Vivo at Single Cell Resolution

Abdull J Massri, Geoffrey R Schiebinger, Alejandro Berrio, Lingyu Wang, Gregory A Wray, David R McClay
Methods in Molecular Biology 2021, 2179: 303-314
An epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) occurs in almost every metazoan embryo at the time mesoderm begins to differentiate. Several embryos have a long record as models for studying an EMT given that a known population of cells enters the EMT at a known time thereby enabling a detailed study of the process. Often, however, it is difficult to learn the molecular details of these model EMT systems because the transitioning cells are a minority of the population of cells in the embryo and in most cases there is an inability to isolate that population. Here we provide a method that enables an examination of genes expressed before, during, and after the EMT with a focus on just the cells that undergo the transition. Single cell RNA-seq (scRNA-seq) has advanced as a technology making it feasible to study the trajectory of gene expression specifically in the cells of interest, in vivo, and without the background noise of other cell populations. The sea urchin skeletogenic cells constitute only 5% of the total number of cells in the embryo yet with scRNA-seq it is possible to study the genes expressed by these cells without background noise. This approach, though not perfect, adds a new tool for uncovering the mechanism of EMT in this cell type.

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