Deep Learning in Spatial Transcriptomics: A Survey of Deep Learning Methods for Spatially-Resolved Transcriptomics
Spatial transcriptomics (ST) technologies are rapidly becoming the extension of single-cell RNA sequencing (scRNAseq), holding the potential of profiling gene expression at a single-cell resolution while maintaining cellular compositions within a tissue. Having both expression profiles and tissue organization enables researchers to better understand cellular interactions and heterogeneity, providing insight into complex biological processes that would not be possible with traditional sequencing
... technologies. The data generated by ST technologies are inherently noisy, high-dimensional, sparse, and multi-modal (including histological images, count matrices, etc.), thus requiring specialized computational tools for accurate and robust analysis. However, many ST studies currently utilize traditional scRNAseq tools, which are inadequate for analyzing complex ST datasets. On the other hand, many of the existing ST-specific methods are built upon traditional statistical or machine learning frameworks, which have shown to be sub-optimal in many applications due to the scale, multi-modality, and limitations of spatially-resolved data (such as spatial resolution, sensitivity and gene coverage). Given these intricacies, researchers have developed deep learning (DL)-based models to alleviate ST-specific challenges. These methods include new state-of-the-art models in alignment, spatial reconstruction, and spatial clustering among others. However, deep-learning models for ST analysis are nascent and remain largely underexplored. In this review, we provide an overview of existing state-of-the-art tools for analyzing spatially-resolved transcriptomics, while delving deeper into the DL-based approaches. We discuss the new frontiers and the open questions in this field and highlight the domains in which we anticipate transformational DL applications.