Due to the increase in accessibility and robustness of sequencing technology, single cell RNA-seq (scRNA-seq) data has become abundant. The technology has made significant contributions to discovering novel phenotypes and heterogeneities of cells. Recently, there has been a push for using single-- or multiple scRNA-seq snapshots to infer the underlying gene regulatory networks (GRNs) steering the cells' biological functions. To date, this aspiration remains unrealised.
In this paper, we took a bottom-up approach and curated a stochastic two gene interaction model capturing the dynamics of a complete system of genes, mRNAs, and proteins. In the model, the regulation was placed upstream from the mRNA on the gene level. We then inferred the underlying regulatory interactions from only the observation of the mRNA population through~time.
We could detect signatures of the regulation by combining information of the mean, covariance, and the skewness of the mRNA counts through time. We also saw that reordering the observations using pseudo-time did not conserve the covariance and skewness of the true time course. The underlying GRN could be captured consistently when we fitted the moments up to degree three; however, this required a computationally expensive non-linear least squares minimisation solver.
There are still major numerical challenges to overcome for inference of GRNs from scRNA-seq data. These challenges entail finding informative summary statistics of the data which capture the critical regulatory information. Furthermore, the statistics have to evolve linearly or piece-wise linearly through time to achieve computational feasibility and scalability.