Background Spatially resolved gene expression has emerged as a crucial technique to understand complex multicellular interactions within the tumor and its microenvironment. Interrogation of complex cellular interactions within the tumor microenvironment (TME) requires a multi-omics approach where multiple RNA and protein targets can be visualized within the same tumor sample and be feasible in FFPE sample types. Simultaneous detection of RNA and protein can reveal cellular sources of secreted proteins, identify specific cell types, and visualize the spatial organization of cells within the tissue. Examination of RNA by in situ hybridization (ISH) and protein by immunohistochemistry (IHC) or immunofluorescence (IF) are widely used and accepted techniques for the detection of biomarkers in tumor samples. Given the similarities in workflow, co-detection of RNA and protein by combining ISH and IHC/IF in a single assay can be a powerful multi-omics solution for interrogating the complex tumor and its microenvironment.
Methods In this report we combined the single cell, single molecule RNA ISH technology known as RNAscope with IHC/IF to simultaneously detect RNA and protein in the same FFPE tumor section using both chromogenic and fluorescence detection methods.
Results We demonstrate co-localization of target mRNA and the corresponding protein in human cancer samples, visualize infiltration of immune cells into the TME, characterize the activation state of immune cells in the TME, identify single cell gene expression within cellular boundaries demarcated by IHC/IF, examine cell type-specific expression of multiple immune checkpoint markers, and distinguish endogenous T cells from activated CAR+ T cells. Overall, we show that co-detection of RNA by the RNAscope ISH assay and protein by the IHC/IF assay in the same FFPE section is a feasible methodology. The combined RNAscope ISH-IHC/IF workflow is a powerful technique that can be used to study gene expression signatures at the RNA and protein level with spatial and single cell resolution.
Conclusions By leveraging the strength of the similar workflows of RNAscope ISH and IHC/IF assays, this methodology combines transcriptomics and proteomics in the same tissue section, providing a multi-omics approach for characterizing complex tissues and revealing cell type specific gene expression with spatial and single cell resolution.
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