Understanding heterogeneous cellular behaviors in a complex tissue requires the evaluation of signaling networks at single-cell resolution. However, probing signaling in epithelial tissues using cytometry-based single-cell analysis has been confounded by the necessity of single-cell dissociation, where disrupting cell-to-cell connections inherently perturbs native cell signaling states. Here, we demonstrate a novel strategy (Disaggregation for Intracellular Signaling in Single Epithelial Cells from Tissue-DISSECT) that preserves native signaling for Cytometry Time-of-Flight (CyTOF) and fluorescent flow cytometry applications. A 21-plex CyTOF analysis encompassing core signaling and cell-identity markers was performed on the small intestinal epithelium after systemic tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-α) stimulation. Unsupervised and supervised analyses robustly selected signaling features that identify a unique subset of epithelial cells that are sensitized to TNF-α-induced apoptosis in the seemingly homogeneous enterocyte population. Specifically, p-ERK and apoptosis are divergently regulated in neighboring enterocytes within the epithelium, suggesting a mechanism of contact-dependent survival. Our novel single-cell approach can broadly be applied, using both CyTOF and multi-parameter flow cytometry, for investigating normal and diseased cell states in a wide range of epithelial tissues.
© 2015 The Authors. Published under the terms of the CC BY 4.0 license.
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