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J Vis Exp. 2018 Sep 25;(139). doi: 10.3791/57776.

Single-cell Quantitation of mRNA and Surface Protein Expression in Simian Immunodeficiency Virus-infected CD4+ T Cells Isolated from Rhesus macaques.

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US Military HIV Research Program, Henry M. Jackson Foundation, Walter Reed Army Institute of Research.
Vaccine Research Center, NIAID, NIH.
US Military HIV Research Program, Henry M. Jackson Foundation, Walter Reed Army Institute of Research;


Single-cell analysis is an important tool for dissecting heterogeneous populations of cells. The identification and isolation of rare cells can be difficult. To overcome this challenge, a methodology combining indexed flow cytometry and high-throughput multiplexed quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) was developed. The objective was to identify and characterize simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV)-infected cells present within rhesus macaques. Through quantitation of surface protein by fluorescence-activated cell sorting (FACS) and mRNA by qPCR, virus-infected cells are identified by viral gene expression, which is combined with host gene and protein measurements to create a multidimensional profile. We term the approach, targeted Single-Cell Proteo-transcriptional Evaluation, or tSCEPTRE. To perform the method, viable cells are stained with fluorescent antibodies specific for surface markers used for FACS isolation of a cell subset and/or downstream phenotypic analysis. Single cells are sorted followed by immediate lysis, multiplex reverse transcription (RT), PCR pre-amplification, and high throughput qPCR of up to 96 transcripts. FACS measurements are recorded at the time of sorting and subsequently linked to the gene expression data by well position to create a combined protein and transcriptional profile. To study SIV-infected cells directly ex vivo, cells were identified by qPCR detection of multiple viral RNA species. The combination of viral transcripts and the quantity of each provide a framework for classifying cells into distinct stages of the viral life cycle (e.g., productive versus non-productive). Moreover, tSCEPTRE of SIV+ cells were compared to uninfected cells isolated from the same specimen to assess differentially expressed host genes and proteins. The analysis revealed previously unappreciated viral RNA expression heterogeneity among infected cells as well as in vivo SIV-mediated post-transcriptional gene regulation with single-cell resolution. The tSCEPTRE method is relevant for the analysis of any cell population amenable to identification by expression of surface protein marker(s), host or pathogen gene(s), or combinations thereof.


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