Single-cell morphology encodes functional subtypes of senescence in aging human dermal fibroblasts

Pratik Kamat, Nico Macaluso, Chanhong Min, Yukang Li, Anshika Agrawal, Aaron Winston, Lauren Pan, Bartholomew Starich, Teasia Stewart, Pei-Hsun Wu, Jean Fan, Jeremy Walston, Jude M Phillip

Abstract: Cellular senescence is an established driver of aging, exhibiting context-dependent phenotypes across multiple biological length-scales. Despite its mechanistic importance, profiling senescence within cell populations is challenging. This is in part due to the limitations of current biomarkers to robustly identify senescent cells across biological settings, and the heterogeneous, non-binary phenotypes exhibited by senescent cells. Using a panel of primary dermal fibroblasts, we combined live single-cell imaging, machine learning, multiple senescence induction conditions, and multiple protein-based senescence biomarkers to show the emergence of functional subtypes of senescence. Leveraging single-cell morphologies, we defined eleven distinct morphology clusters, with the abundance of cells in each cluster being dependent on the mode of senescence induction, the time post-induction, and the age of the donor. Of these eleven clusters, we identified three bona-fide senescence subtypes (C7, C10, C11), with C10 showing the strongest age-dependence across a cohort of fifty aging individuals. To determine the functional significance of these senescence subtypes, we profiled their responses to senotherapies, specifically focusing on Dasatinib + Quercetin (D+Q). Results indicated subtype-dependent responses, with senescent cells in C7 being most responsive to D+Q. Altogether, we provide a robust single-cell framework to identify and classify functional senescence subtypes with applications for next-generation senotherapy screens, and the potential to explain heterogeneous senescence phenotypes across biological settings based on the presence and abundance of distinct senescence subtypes.

Paper: bioRxiv