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Development and application of spatial transcriptomics methods

Time: Fri 2023-09-29 10.00

Location: Air&Fire, Tomtebodavägen 23, 17165, Solna

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Language: English

Subject area: Biotechnology

Doctoral student: Zaneta Andrusivova , Science for Life Laboratory, SciLifeLab, Genteknologi

Opponent: Doktor Jay W. Shin, Genome Institute of Singapore

Supervisor: Professor Joakim Lundeberg, Science for Life Laboratory, SciLifeLab, Genteknologi

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QC 2023-08-21


Transcriptomics is one of the pivotal fields in molecular biology, enabling comprehensive analysis of gene expression patterns. Recent advancements in the biotechnology field have transformed the transcriptomics research, providing insights into the complexity of cellular processes in a greater detail. However, conventional transcriptomics methods such as bulk RNA sequencing or single-cell RNA sequencing rely on tissue dissociation and therefore lack spatial information, which limits our understanding of gene expression patterns within the tissue structures. The development of spatially resolved transcriptomics methods has revolutionized the study of transcriptomes, enabling analysis of gene expression patterns in the spatial context. The wide range of available transcriptomics technologies offer various levels of resolution and throughput, and combination of multiple techniques can be beneficial for studying biological systems and gain deeper understanding of their molecular processes. In this thesis, particular emphasis is given to the Visium spatial gene expression technology, which has gain widespread popularity in the research community over the recent years. 

In the article I, we expand the application of the Visium platform to fresh-frozen samples of lower RNA quality or otherwise challenging characteristics. To achieve this, we introduce specific modifications to the commercially available protocol and test its effectiveness across different tissue types of varying RNA quality, including pediatric brain tumors, human small intestine, and mouse bone and cartilage. By conducting comparative analysis, we demonstrate that the new protocol outperforms the standard Visium protocol when working with samples of moderate and lower RNA quality.

Article II introduces a novel method that enhances the resolution of the Visium gene expression method through tissue expansion. We showcase the implementation of this new protocol on two regions of mouse brain, olfactory bulb and hippocampus. We demonstrate the ability of this approach to study smaller tissue structures that were previously beyond the resolution capabilities of the Visium platform.

In the article III and IV, we demonstrate the practical application of the Visium approach and its combination with other methodologies in the field of developmental biology. We show how utilizing spatial transcriptomics methods help elucidate the spatial organization of cell types and cell states during organogenesis in the developing human spinal cord (article III) and developing lung tissue (article IV). By deploying single-cell RNA sequencing and spatial methods, we described the spatiotemporal gene expression profiles of various cell types as well as shared and unique events occurring during the spinal cord development in humans and rodents (article III). Applying this multimodal approach to lung tissue (article IV) allowed us to characterize novel cell states emerging during lung development and provided valuable insights into the structural organization of developing lungs. These studies highlight the findings and observations that can be gained by combining spatially resolved transcriptomics with other laboratory techniques to shed light on the spatial dynamics of cellular processes during organ development.