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Bioessays. 2014 Apr;36(4):419-26. doi: 10.1002/bies.201300102. Epub 2014 Jan 28.

Transcriptional mechanisms of cell fate decisions revealed by single cell expression profiling.

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Department of Haematology, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK; Wellcome Trust - Medical Research Council, Cambridge Stem Cell Institute, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK; Cambridge Institute for Medical Research, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK.


Transcriptional networks regulate cell fate decisions, which occur at the level of individual cells. However, much of what we know about their structure and function comes from studies averaging measurements over large populations of cells, many of which are functionally heterogeneous. Such studies conceal the variability between cells and so prevent us from determining the nature of heterogeneity at the molecular level. In recent years, many protocols and platforms have been developed that allow the high throughput analysis of gene expression in single cells, opening the door to a new era of biology. Here, we discuss the need for single cell gene expression analysis to gain deeper insights into the transcriptional control of cell fate decisions, and consider the insights it has provided so far into transcriptional regulatory networks in development.


cell fate control; single cell analysis; transcriptional networks

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