Current methods of high-dimensional unsupervised clustering of mass cytometry data lack means to monitor and evaluate clustering results. Whether unsupervised clustering is correct is typically evaluated by agreement with dimensionality reduction techniques or based on benchmarking with manually classified cells. The ambiguity and lack of reproducibility of sequential gating has been replaced with ambiguity in interpretation of clustering results. On the other hand, spurious overclustering of data leads to loss of statistical power. We have developed INFLECT, an R-package designed to give insight in clustering results and provide an optimal number of clusters. In our approach, a mass cytometry dataset is overclustered intentionally to ensure the smallest phenotypically different subsets are captured using FlowSOM. A range of metacluster number endpoints are generated and evaluated using marker interquartile range and distribution unimodality checks. The fraction of marker distributions that pass these checks is taken as a measure of clustering success. The fraction of unimodal distributions within metaclusters is plotted against the number of generated metaclusters and reaches a plateau of diminishing returns. The inflection point at which this occurs gives an optimal point of capturing cellular heterogeneity versus statistical power.

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BMC Bioinformatics

J. Verhoeff, Abeln, S., & Garcia-Vallejo, J. (2022). INFLECT: An R-package for cytometry cluster evaluation using marker modality. BMC Bioinformatics, 23, 487:1–487:15. doi:10.1186/s12859-022-05018-w