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Trends Immunol. 2014 May;35(5):219-29. doi: 10.1016/ Epub 2014 Apr 16.

Heterogeneity in immune responses: from populations to single cells.

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Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, 7 Cambridge Center, Cambridge, MA 02142, USA. Electronic address:
Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology and Department of Physics, Harvard University, 12 Oxford Street, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA. Electronic address:


The mammalian immune system is tasked with protecting the host against a broad range of threats. Understanding how immune populations leverage cellular diversity to achieve this breadth and flexibility, particularly during dynamic processes such as differentiation and antigenic response, is a core challenge that is well suited for single cell analysis. Recent years have witnessed transformative and intersecting advances in nanofabrication and genomics that enable deep profiling of individual cells, affording exciting opportunities to study heterogeneity in the immune response at an unprecedented scope. In light of these advances, here we review recent work exploring how immune populations generate and leverage cellular heterogeneity at multiple molecular and phenotypic levels. Additionally, we highlight opportunities for single cell technologies to shed light on the causes and consequences of heterogeneity in the immune system.


cellular heterogeneity; immune response; phenotypic variation; single cell genomics

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