HArmonized single-cell RNA-seq Cell type Assisted Deconvolution (HASCAD)

Yen Jung Chiu, Chung En Ni, Yen Hua Huang*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Cell composition deconvolution (CCD) is a type of bioinformatic task to estimate the cell fractions from bulk gene expression profiles, such as RNA-seq. Many CCD models were developed to perform linear regression analysis using reference gene expression signatures of distinct cell types. Reference gene expression signatures could be generated from cell-specific gene expression profiles, such as scRNA-seq. However, the batch effects and dropout events frequently observed across scRNA-seq datasets have limited the performances of CCD methods. Methods: We developed a deep neural network (DNN) model, HASCAD, to predict the cell fractions of up to 15 immune cell types. HASCAD was trained using the bulk RNA-seq simulated from three scRNA-seq datasets that have been normalized by using a Harmony-Symphony based strategy. Mean square error and Pearson correlation coefficient were used to compare the performance of HASCAD with those of other widely used CCD methods. Two types of datasets, including a set of simulated bulk RNA-seq, and three human PBMC RNA-seq datasets, were arranged to conduct the benchmarks. Results: HASCAD is useful for the investigation of the impacts of immune cell heterogeneity on the therapeutic effects of immune checkpoint inhibitors, since the target cell types include the ones known to play a role in anti-tumor immunity, such as three subtypes of CD8 T cells and three subtypes of CD4 T cells. We found that the removal of batch effects in the reference scRNA-seq datasets could benefit the task of CCD. Our benchmarks showed that HASCAD is more suitable for analyzing bulk RNA-seq data, compared with the two widely used CCD methods, CIBERSORTx and quanTIseq. We applied HASCAD to analyze the liver cancer samples of TCGA-LIHC, and found that there were significant associations of the predicted abundance of Treg and effector CD8 T cell with patients’ overall survival. Conclusion: HASCAD could predict the cell composition of the PBMC bulk RNA-seq and classify the cell type from pure bulk RNA-seq. The model of HASCAD is available at https://github.com/holiday01/HASCAD .

Original languageEnglish
Article number272
JournalBMC Medical Genomics
StatePublished - Oct 2023


  • Cell composition deconvolution
  • Deep learning
  • Harmonization
  • RNA-seq


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