Quantifying intrinsic and extrinsic control of single-cell fates in cancer and stem/progenitor cell pedigrees with competing risks analysis Academic Article uri icon

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  • The molecular control of cell fate and behaviour is a central theme in biology. Inherent heterogeneity within cell populations requires that control of cell fate is studied at the single-cell level. Time-lapse imaging and single-cell tracking are powerful technologies for acquiring cell lifetime data, allowing quantification of how cell-intrinsic and extrinsic factors control single-cell fates over time. However, cell lifetime data contain complex features. Competing cell fates, censoring, and the possible inter-dependence of competing fates, currently present challenges to modelling cell lifetime data. Thus far such features are largely ignored, resulting in loss of data and introducing a source of bias. Here we show that competing risks and concordance statistics, previously applied to clinical data and the study of genetic influences on life events in twins, respectively, can be used to quantify intrinsic and extrinsic control of single-cell fates. Using these statistics we demonstrate that 1) breast cancer cell fate after chemotherapy is dependent on p53 genotype; 2) granulocyte macrophage progenitors and their differentiated progeny have concordant fates; and 3) cytokines promote self-renewal of cardiac mesenchymal stem cells by symmetric divisions. Therefore, competing risks and concordance statistics provide a robust and unbiased approach for evaluating hypotheses at the single-cell level.


  • Cornwell, JA
  • Hallett, RM
  • der Mauer, S Auf
  • Motazedian, A
  • Schroeder, T
  • Draper, Jonathan
  • Harvey, RP
  • Nordon, RE

publication date

  • June 2016

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