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Trends Pharmacol Sci. 2012 Jan;33(1):9-16. doi: 10.1016/ Epub 2011 Oct 25.

Drug targets: single-cell transcriptomics hastens unbiased discovery.

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Molecular and Integrative Neurosciences Department, The Scripps Research Institute, 10 550N. Torrey Pines Road, SR307, La Jolla, CA, 92037, USA.


Drug discovery in neuro- and psychopharmacology is lagging, and the most commonly mentioned cause is the scarcity of drug targets. Using NextGen 'sequencing based single-cell transcriptomics' (SBSCT), several hundred different receptors and channels can be identified in individual neurons, and the functional gene product can subsequently be validated. The use of single-cell transcriptome data to reveal the entire receptor repertoire is crucial, as the copy numbers of mRNAs encoding receptors are low, and when cells are pooled dilution of rare mRNAs leads to loss of signal. These overlooked receptors on key neurons often mediate robust effects that may be therapeutically useful. SBSCT also enables the identification of orphan receptors and can provide strong evidence for receptor heterodimers. Here, we compare SBSCT to other single-cell profiling methods. We argue that the unbiased nature of SBSCT makes it a powerful tool for the identification of new drug targets.

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