Single-cell analyses of aging, inflammation and senescence


  • B. Uyar
  • D. Palmer
  • A. Kowald
  • H.M. Escobar
  • I. Barrantes
  • S. Möller
  • A. Akalin
  • G. Fuellen


  • Ageing Research Reviews


  • Ageing Res Rev 64: 101156


  • Single-cell gene expression (transcriptomics) data are becoming robust and abundant, and are increasingly used to track organisms along their life-course. This allows investigation into how aging affects cellular transcriptomes, and how changes in transcriptomes may underlie aging, including chronic inflammation (inflammaging), immunosenescence and cellular senescence. We compiled and tabulated aging-related single-cell datasets published to date, collected and discussed relevant findings, and inspected some of these datasets ourselves. We specifically note insights that cannot (or not easily) be based on bulk data. For example, in some datasets, the fraction of cells expressing p16 (CDKN2A), one of the most prominent markers of cellular senescence, was reported to increase, in addition to its upregulated mean expression over all cells. Moreover, we found evidence for inflammatory processes in most datasets, some of these driven by specific cells of the immune system. Further, single-cell data are specifically useful to investigate whether transcriptional heterogeneity (also called noise or variability) increases with age, and many (but not all) studies in our review report an increase in such heterogeneity. Finally, we demonstrate some stability of marker gene expression patterns across closely similar studies and suggest that single-cell experiments may hold the key to provide detailed insights whenever interventions (countering aging, inflammation, senescence, disease, etc.) are affecting cells depending on cell type.