10 March 2017
Parsing the Pancreas
Grapin-Botton, Anne & Palle Serup (2017). Parsing the Pancreas. The New England Journal of Medicine, 376(9), 886-888, doi:10.1056/NEJMcibr1616217.
The identity of any given cell is determined by its transcriptome — that is, the set of genes that are actively transcribed into RNA in that cell. A disease condition or the elements of the cell environment, such as hormones, paracrine factors, and nutrients, can also determine the functional state of the cell, in a process that often involves changes in the transcriptome. Traditional analyses of bulk populations of cells, even when they are highly purified by cell sorting with cell type–specific markers, represent a mean of the population and may hide cellular heterogeneity — for example, the presence of functionally important subpopulations.
The revolution in single-cell assays is in the process of incorporating epigenetic and proteomic analyses. It is allowing researchers to answer questions that could not hitherto be addressed and raises prospects for a better understanding of that most complex of organs, the human brain.