Abstract
Although singlecell and spatial sequencing methods enable simultaneous measurement of more than one biological modality, no technology can capture all modalities within the same cell. For current data integration methods, the feasibility of crossmodal integration relies on the existence of highly correlated, a priori ‘linked’ features. We describe matching Xmodality via fuzzy smoothed embedding (MaxFuse), a crossmodal data integration method that, through iterative coembedding, data smoothing and cell matching, uses all information in each modality to obtain highquality integration even when features are weakly linked. MaxFuse is modalityagnostic and demonstrates high robustness and accuracy in the weak linkage scenario, achieving 20~70% relative improvement over existing methods under key evaluation metrics on benchmarking datasets. A prototypical example of weak linkage is the integration of spatial proteomic data with singlecell sequencing data. On two example analyses of this type, MaxFuse enabled the spatial consolidation of proteomic, transcriptomic and epigenomic information at singlecell resolution on the same tissue section.
Main
Recent technological advances have enabled analyses of the proteome and metabolome^{1,2}, transcriptome^{3} and various aspects of the epigenome such as methylation^{4}, histone modification^{5,6,7} and chromatin accessibility^{5,8} within individual cells. In addition to technologies operating on dissociated single cells, rapid progress has been made on the in situ measurement of transcriptome^{9}, proteome^{10,11,12,13,14}, epigenome^{15} and other modalities on tissue sections at singlecell or close to singlecell resolution, retaining the spatial context. To harness the new technologies and growing data resources for biological discovery, a primary challenge is the reliable integration of data across modalities. Crossmodal integration, also referred to as ‘diagonal integration’^{16,17}, is the alignment of single cells or spatial spots across datasets where different features (or modalities) are profiled in each dataset. This crossmodal integration step underpins many types of downstream analyses, and its importance is evident in the myriad methods that have already been developed to tackle such tasks^{18,19,20,21,22,23,24}.
Despite the progress, key limitations still hinder reliable crossmodal integration, as highlighted by recent surveys^{16,17,25}. A key factor limiting the accuracy of existing methods is the strength of linkage between modalities, as we define below. A feature is ‘linked’ between two modalities if it was measured in, or can be predicted by, both modalities. In the terminology of refs. ^{16,17}, these linked features can serve as ‘anchors’ for integration. For example, to integrate singlecell assay for transposaseaccessible chromatin sequencing (scATACseq) and singlecell RNA sequencing (scRNAseq) data, most existing methods predict the ‘activity’ for each gene in each cell of the scATACseq data based on the accessibility of the gene’s surrounding chromatin; then, each gene’s ATAC activity can be ‘linked’ to its RNA expression, thus mapping cells from the two datasets into the same feature space. Similarly, between RNA and protein assays, the abundance of each protein can be ‘linked’ to the expression of its coding gene in the RNA assay.
Most existing methods are designed for scenarios where there is a large number of linked features that also exhibit strong crossmodality correlations, a situation that we refer to as ‘strong linkage’. For example, between scRNAseq and scATACseq, every gene in the genome can be linked, and the correlation between gene activity and RNA expression is often high enough for enough genes to allow for precise integration^{18,19,22}. To achieve strong linkage, some methods attempt to learn a mapping from the features of one modality to the features of the other modality through a ‘training set’ consisting of data obtained when both modalities are simultaneously observed in each cell/spot^{23,26}. While this strategy may be applicable towards the integration of data from biological systems that are similar to the training set, it is questionable how well it can generalize to unseen systems.
Crossmodality integration in scenarios of weak linkage, where the number of linked features is small and/or the betweenmodality correlation for the linked features is weak, is especially challenging. A prototypical example of weak linkage is between targeted protein assays^{14,27} and transcriptome or epigenome assays such as scRNAseq or scATACseq. Such scenarios are becoming extremely common as spatial proteomic technologies have been widely adopted^{10,11,12,13,14}, and complementing RNA and ATAC sequencing to achieve more complete tissue characterization^{28,29,30,31}. We will reveal, through comprehensive benchmarks, the limitations of existing stateoftheart methods in such difficult cases.
To address these limitations, we developed a method that we call MaxFuse, a modelfree, adaptable method that can accurately integrate data across weakly linked modalities. We systematically benchmarked the performance of MaxFuse across singlecell protein, RNA and chromatin accessibility multiome groundtruth datasets. Across a wide variety of datasets, MaxFuse has superior performance compared with other stateoftheart integration methods. Although the largest improvements in accuracy were observed under weak linkage, under strong linkage MaxFuse was comparable to the current best method in integration performance with substantial improvement in speed.
We further demonstrate the analyses enabled by MaxFuse with two examples. First, in the integration of scRNAseq and CODEX multiplexed in situ protein profiling data from the human tonsil, we showed that MaxFuse identified correct spatial gradients in the RNA expression of genes not included in the 46marker protein panel. Second, MaxFuse was applied to an atlaslevel integration of spatial proteomic and singlecell sequencing datasets^{31}. We demonstrate how to perform trimodal integration of CODEX, singlenucleus RNA sequencing (snRNAseq) and singlenucleus ATAC sequencing (snATACseq) data that revealed spatial patterns of RNA expression and transcription factor binding site accessibility at singlecell resolution. We have implemented MaxFuse as a Python package which is freely available to the public at https://github.com/shuxiaoc/maxfuse.
Results
Crossmodality matching via iterative smoothed embedding
The input to MaxFuse are data from two modalities in the form of two pairs of matrices (Fig. 1a). For convenience, we can call the two modalities Y and Z. First, we have a pair of cellbyfeature matrices that contain all measured features in each modality. In addition, we represent the initial knowledge about the linkage between the two modalities as another pair of cellbyfeature matrices whose columns have onetoone correspondences. To distinguish between these two pairs of matrices, we call the former allfeature matrices and the latter linkedfeature matrices. For example, when one modality is protein abundance over a small antibody panel and the other is RNA expression over the whole transcriptome, the two allfeature matrices have drastically different numbers of columns, one being the number of proteins in the panel and the other being the number of genes in the transcriptome; the linkedfeature matrices, on the other hand, have an equal number of columns, where each column in the protein matrix is one protein and its corresponding column in the RNA linkedfeature matrix is its coding gene. When the number of cells is large, we recommend aggregating cells with similar features into metacells, as described in the Methods, before applying MaxFuse. In that case, each row in the above matrices would represent a metacell. The procedure below does not depend on whether single cells or metacells are used, and thus we will refer to each row as a ‘cell’.
During stage 1 of the MaxFuse pipeline, cell–cell similarities are identified within each modality and initial crossmodal matching of cells is performed. This stage consists of three major steps (Fig. 1a). In step 1, for each modality, we use all features to compute a fuzzy nearestneighbor graph connecting all cells measured in that modality. This graph, by utilizing the information in all features, provides the best possible summary of the cell–cell similarity for the given modality. In particular, cells that are close in this graph should have comparable values for their linked features. Thus, in step 2, MaxFuse boosts the signaltonoise ratio in the linked features within each modality by shrinking their values, for each cell, towards the cell’s graphneighborhood average. We call this step ‘fuzzy smoothing’. In step 3, MaxFuse computes distances between all crossmodal cell pairs based on the smoothed, linked features and applies linear assignment^{32} on the crossmodal pairwise distances to obtain an initial matching of cells. The initial matching serves as the starting point for stage 2.
Stage 2 of MaxFuse improves crossmodal cell matching quality by iterating the sequence of joint embedding, fuzzy smoothing and linear assignment steps (Fig. 1b). Starting with the initial matches obtained in stage 1, in each iteration, MaxFuse first learns a linear joint embedding of cells across modalities by computing a canonical correlation based on all features of the crossmodal matched cell pairs. Then, coordinates of this joint embedding are treated as new linked features of each modality and fuzzy smoothing is applied on them based on the allfeature nearestneighbor graphs computed in stage 1. Finally, MaxFuse updates the cellmatching across modalities by applying linear assignment on the pairwise distances of these fuzzysmoothed joint embedding coordinates. The resulting matching is used to start the next iteration. Matching quality improves with each iteration until available information in all features, and not just the linked features, has been used.
In stage 3, MaxFuse processes the last crossmodal cell matching from stage 2 and produces final outputs. First, MaxFuse screens the matched pairs from the last iteration, retaining highquality matches as pivots. The pivots are used in two complementary ways: (1) they are used one last time to compute a final joint embedding of all cells in both modalities; (2) for any unmatched cell in either modality, its closest neighbor within the same modality that belongs to a pivot is identified and, as long as its distance to this neighbor is below a threshold, the match in the pivot is propagated to the cell. Thus, the final output of MaxFuse has two components: (1) a list of matched pairs across modalities, and (2) a joint embedding of all cells in both modalities. See the Methods for more MaxFuse algorithm details.
Integration of transcriptome and targeted protein data
We benchmarked MaxFuse on a cellular indexing of transcriptomes and epitopes sequencing (CITEseq) dataset^{33} that included measurements of 228 protein markers and whole transcriptome on peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs). For comparison, we also applied four stateoftheart integration methods, Seurat (V3) (ref. ^{24}), Liger^{22}, Harmony^{20} and BindSC^{34}, to this same dataset. Protein names were converted to RNA names manually to link the features between datasets. In each repetition of our experiment, we randomly subsampled 10,000 cells and applied all methods, and assessed using the benchmarking criteria to be described below. We performed five such repetitions and averaged the criteria across repetitions. For all integration methods, we masked the known cell–cell matching between the protein and RNA modalities, and then used the known matching for assessment.
Methods were assessed using six different criteria that measure both celltypelevel label transfer accuracy as well as celllevel matching accuracy. Two criteria were used to judge celltypelevel label transfer accuracy. Cells were annotated at two levels of granularity (from ref. ^{33}): level 1, which differentiates between eight major cell types; and level 2, a finer classification which differentiates between 31 cell types. The proportions of matched pairs that shared the same label at both annotation levels were reported, with higher proportions indicating higher matching quality. Two criteria assessed the quality of crossmodal joint embedding of cells. A highquality joint embedding should preserve biological signal, as reflected by the separation of known cell types, while mixing the two modalities as uniformly as possible. Usually, there is a tradeoff between these two goals. To aggregate quality assessments of biological signal preservation and modality mixing, we calculated F_{1} scores based on average silhouette width (slt_f1) and on adjusted Rand index (ari_f1), as proposed in ref. ^{35}. For both criteria, higher F_{1} indicates a better embedding. The fifth criterion, Fraction Of Samples Closer Than True Match (FOSCTTM)^{19,36,37}, was used to quantify the quality of joint embedding at singlecell resolution. For each cell, we computed the fraction of cells in the other modality that is closer than its true match in the joint embedding space. FOSCTTM is the average of this fraction over all cells in both modalities. The lower the value of this score, the closer the true matches are in the joint embedding, and, hence, the better the joint embedding. The last criterion is Fraction Of Samples whose true matches are among their KNearest Neighbors (FOSKNN) in the joint embedding space. For any given k ≥ 1, the higher this proportion, the better the joint embedding. For precise definitions of these criteria, see the Methods.
Based on all these criteria, MaxFuse was superior by a sizable margin (Fig. 2a). Importantly, MaxFuse resulted in accurate cell matching across weakly linked modalities (for example, level 1 accuracy 93.9%, better by over 7% in absolute scale than the second best method (Extended Data Fig. 1)). The Uniform Manifold Approximation and Projection (UMAP) plots calculated based on the postintegration embedding from respective methods (Fig. 2b and Extended Data Fig. 1), colored by modality and by level 2 celltype annotation, showed that MaxFuse achieved both better mixing of the two modalities (left panel) and better preservation of biological signals (right panel). For example, a clearly resolved trajectory of B cell subtypes (B naive, intermediate and memory cells) was apparent after MaxFuse integration but not after integration by other methods.
It is common to have an antibody panel that is of substantially smaller size than 228, especially for spatial proteomic datasets. To benchmark the performance of MaxFuse against existing methods with smaller antibody panels, we ordered the proteins according to their importance for differentiating cell types (see the Methods for details). We repeated the matching and integration process with the top 100, 50 and 30 most important proteins used in the matching and integration process. With each panel size, we ran the experiment over five independent repetitions with 10,000 randomly subsampled cells, and averaged the celltype annotation matching accuracy (level 1 and level 2), FOSCTTM and FOSKNN scores across repetitions (Fig. 2c). Regardless of panel size, MaxFuse consistently outperformed other methods. Additionally, MaxFuse successfully mitigated the effect of reduced panel size on integration quality: even when the antibody panel size was reduced to 30, MaxFuse had approximately 90% accuracy for level 1 annotation, whereas accuracy of the other methods ranged from around 15% to 75% (Extended Data Fig. 2). With a reduced panel of 30 antibodies, the integrated UMAP embedding^{38} produced by other methods blurred the distinction between cell types, whereas MaxFuse embedding still accurately captured the subtle structure of highly granular cell subtypes, such as the B cell subpopulations (Fig. 2d and Extended Data Fig. 2).
In addition, we evaluated the impact of tuning parameter choice on MaxFuse integration results using groundtruth CITEseq PBMC data. The investigated tuning parameters include matrix singular value decomposition components used for different modalities, smoothing weights used during initialization and refinement, number of refinement iterations, dimension for final canonical correlation analysis (CCA) embedding, filtering percentages on pivot and on full matching, metacell size and nearestneighbor graph neighborhood size. Benchmarking on both the full panel of 228 antibodies and a reduced panel of the 50 most informative antibodies revealed that MaxFuse performance was robust with respect to the investigated tuning parameters (Extended Data Figs. 3 and 4 and Supplementary Figs. 1 and 2). Furthermore, we assessed the performance of MaxFuse when certain cell subpopulations were absent from one modality. Benchmark tests considering three different missing cell subpopulations in protein modality showed that MaxFuse was robust with respect to mismatch of cell populations between the two modalities (Supplementary Table 5).
Benchmarking on multiple groundtruth multiome modalities
We further benchmarked MaxFuse on four additional singlecell multiome datasets. The first was a CITEseq dataset of human bone marrow mononuclear cells that provides cellmatched measurements of the full transcriptome along with an antibody panel of size 25 (ref. ^{33}). The second was an Abseq dataset, also of bone marrow mononuclear cells, with an antibody panel of size 97 and the whole transcriptome^{39}. The third was an ATAC with select antigen profiling sequencing (ASAPseq) PBMC dataset^{40} with 227 antibodies and the whole epigenome measured in ATAC fragments. The fourth was a transcription, epitopes, and accessibility sequencing (TEAseq) PBMC dataset^{41} where we focused on the simultaneous measurements of 46 antibodies and the whole epigenome measured in ATAC fragments. Together, these datasets represent a diverse collection of measurement technologies over different modality pairs. We benchmarked the performance of MaxFuse against Seurat (V3), Liger, Harmony and BindSC on these datasets. For datasets with simultaneous RNA and protein features, we linked each protein to its coding gene. For datasets with simultaneous ATAC and protein measurements, we linked each protein to the gene activity score^{42} computed from the ATAC fragments mapping near its coding gene. The known cell–cell correspondences across modalities were masked in the integration stage for all methods, but used afterwards for evaluation.
We compared the performances of MaxFuse and the other four methods on these datasets based on celltype annotation matching accuracy, FOSCTTM, FOSKNN (k set as 1/200 dataset size), Silhouette F1 score and Adjusted Random Index (ARI) F1 score. Overall, MaxFuse outperformed other methods, often by a sizable margin (Fig. 3a and Supplementary Figs. 3–6). UMAPs of MaxFuse crossmodal joint embeddings for each dataset are shown in Fig. 3b. Across the integration scenarios, MaxFuse mixed different modalities well in joint embeddings while retaining separation between cell types. Compared with UMAPs of joint embeddings produced by other methods, MaxFuse consistently achieves substantial improvements (Fig. 3b and Supplementary Figs. 3–6).
We also considered integration of scRNAseq and scATACseq data. This is a representative example of integrating strongly linked modalities for which multiple methods have demonstrated feasibility^{18,19,22}. It has been shown in ref. ^{43} that, in terms of cell population structure, the information shared across RNA and ATAC is much higher than the information shared between RNA and protein for commonly used targeted protein panels. Thus, RNA and ATAC data have stronger linkage and should be easier to integrate. We benchmarked MaxFuse against stateoftheart methods (Maestro^{44}, scJoint^{45} and scGLUE^{19}) that are specific for RNA–ATAC integration on four public multiome datasets that simultaneously measured the chromatin accessibility and transcriptome expression for each cell: cells from human PBMCs^{46}, cells from embryonic mouse brain at day 18 postconception^{46}, cells from developing human cerebral cortex^{47} and cells from human retina^{48} (Extended Data Fig. 5a). The integration quality criteria described in the previous subsection were used to assess all methods. MaxFuse achieved best or closetobest integration performance among the tested methods, and was comparable to scGLUE (Extended Data Fig. 5c–f). However, MaxFuse is computationally much faster than scGLUE. For example, for the integration of a dataset of 20,000 cells, MaxFuse completed within 5 min on a MacBook Pro laptop with M1 Max CPU, while scGLUE took hours to complete the job on the same platform. Even with CUDA GPU acceleration, scGLUE still used around 30 min to finish on a computing platform with dual Intel i910980XE CPUs and dual NVIDIA Quadro RTX 8000 GPUs (Extended Data Fig. 5b).
MaxFuse enables informationrich spatial pattern discovery
MaxFuse is motivated by scenarios where the signaltonoise ratio in the crossmodal linked features is low. Weak linkages are especially common in spatialomic data types due to technical limitations. For example, highresolution spatial proteomic methods such as CODEX, MIBITOF, IMC and CosMx SMI can profile, at subcellular resolution, a panel of 30–100 proteins^{10,11,12,13}. Integration of such spatial proteomics datasets with singlecell transcriptomic and epigenomic datasets of the same tissue is often of interest, but is particularly challenging due to the small number of markers in the spatial dataset and the weak linkage between modalities which is caused by both biological and technical differences. To test MaxFuse on this type of crossmodal integration, we evaluated its performance on integrating a CODEX multiplex imaging dataset obtained using 46 markers^{49} with scRNAseq data^{50} of human tonsils from two separate studies (Fig. 4a). MaxFuse produced an embedding that integrated the two modalities while preserving the cell population structure (Fig. 4b).
Based on the predescribed benchmarking metrics, MaxFuse is the only method capable of integrating spatial proteomic and scRNAseq data. Seurat (V3), Liger, BindSC and Harmony failed to produce an embedding that integrates the two modalities while preserving the cell population structure (Fig. 4b and Extended Data Fig. 6). Evaluation results based on celltype matching accuracy are consistent with evaluation results based on the joint embedding. At the level of the six major cell types presented in the tissue, MaxFuse achieved high label transfer accuracy (93.3%), while the other methods failed to preserve celltype distinctions (40–60%; Fig. 4b and Extended Data Fig. 6).
To assess whether MaxFuse preserves subtle spatial variations within a cell type that are captured by CODEX, we manually delineated the boundaries of each individual germinal center (GC) from the CODEX tonsil images based on CD19, CD21 and Ki67 protein expression patterns. We then extended outward or inward from these boundaries, with each step covering roughly one layer of cells (one step = 30 pixels erosion/dilation) (Fig. 4c). For each layer of cells, we calculated the average counts of specific genes, based on the scRNAseq cells matched to CODEX cells in that layer. We then asked if known positionspecific gene expression patterns relative to the GC boundary are recovered in the integrated scRNAseq data. Indeed, MaxFuse was able to reconstruct the spatial pattern of the GC from disassociated transcriptomic data (Fig. 4d,e): for GCspecific transcripts BCL6, AICDA and FOXP1 (refs. ^{51,52,53}) which relate to GC functionality, we observed high expression within the boundary and a sharp drop in expression after passing the boundary layer; for transcripts related to B cell memory, CCR6, BANK1 and FCER2 (refs. ^{53,54,55}), which should be enriched in B cells exiting from the GC, we indeed saw a gradual increase outside of the GC and then a quick decrease as the layer fully expanded into the T cell region; and finally for T cellrelated transcripts, for example CD4, GATA3 and CD3 (ref. ^{56}), we indeed saw a rapid increase outside of the GC boundary but no expression within. In comparison, the integration produced by other methods did not accurately reconstruct the GC spatial pattern (Supplementary Fig. 7). Except for CD3 and CD4, none of the other seven transcripts had its corresponding protein measured in the CODEX panel. We also followed with experimental validation via RNAscope, where we observed consistent spatial patterns of AICDA and CCR6 in human tonsil, as predicted by MaxFuse integration (Extended Data Fig. 7).
Furthermore, MaxFuse can be utilized for automated celltype annotation of CODEX cells, given that the scRNAseq data to be matched are annotated. We evaluated the automated annotations on all CODEX cells produced by MaxFuse, comparing them with those generated by two cuttingedge CODEX celltype annotation methods, CELESTA^{57} and Astir^{58}. This comparison was benchmarked against annotations made by human experts. MaxFuse achieved an annotation accuracy of nearly 90%, substantially improving upon these two methods for direct annotation of CODEX data, which had accuracy within the 70–75% range (Fig. 4f).
Trimodal atlaslevel integration with MaxFuse
In the consortiumlevel effort to generate a comprehensive atlas across different regions of the human intestine, colon and small bowel tissues from healthy human donors were collected and systematically profiled by CODEX, snRNAseq and snATACseq^{31}. We applied MaxFuse to the integration of these three datasets obtained from analyses of colon (Fig. 5a), with the goal of constructing highresolution spatial maps of full transcriptome RNA expression and transcription factor binding accessibility. We first conducted pairwise alignment of cells between protein (CODEX) and RNA (snRNAseq), and cells between RNA (snRNAseq) and ATAC (snATACseq), as previously described. The two sets of bimodal cellpairing pivots were then ‘chained’ together, with the pivot cells in the RNA modality serving as the intermediary. This ‘chaining’ created a set of pivots linking all three modalities: protein, RNA and ATAC. Subsequently, we used these pivots to calculate a triomic embedding via generalized CCA (gCCA)^{2159}. This allowed calculation of a joint embedding of the three modalities (Fig. 5b). The MaxFuse integration preserved distinctions between major cell types, and modalities were mixed within each cell type. See Supplementary Fig. 8 for a comparison between using RNA and using ATAC as the baseline (intermediary) modality. Additionally, the design of batching in MaxFuse allowed the integration of atlaslevel datasets with limited time and space resources (Extended Data Fig. 8).
Effectively, the MaxFuse integration produced a joint profile of protein abundance, RNA expression and chromatin accessibility at singlecell spatial resolution on the same tissue section. To confirm the validity of this trimodal integration, we inspected whether CODEX’s protein abundance aligned spatially with the expression and chromatin activity of the proteincoding gene, the spatial measurements of the latter two modalities imputed based on the MaxFuse integration. In one example, the protein expression, RNA expression and gene activity of CD163 were, as expected for this macrophage marker, uniquely enriched in the macrophage cell cluster (Fig. 5c, top row). Furthermore, protein, RNA and ATAC activities of this gene all localized to the same spatial positions on the tissue section (Fig. 5c, bottom row). See Extended Data Fig. 9 for additional examples.
With the integration of the snATACseq and CODEX data, we were able to map the spatial enrichment of transcription factor binding site accessibility. For each transcription factor, we first computed a motif enrichment score for each cell in the snATACseq data using chromVAR^{60}, and then the scores were transferred to the CODEX spatial positions based on the MaxFuse integration. Figure 5d shows such spatial profiles for three transcription factors. Binding motifs of IRF4, a key regulator in immune cell differentiation^{61}, had increased accessibility in the immuneenriched compartments of the mucosa and submucosa layers^{31}. Binding motifs of KLF4, known to be required for the terminal differentiation of goblet cells^{62}, had heightened accessibility in the colonic crypts of the mucosa layer where goblet cells mature. Finally, binding motifs of SRF, a master regulator of smooth muscle gene expression^{63}, had heightened accessibility in neighborhoods that are enriched for smooth muscle cells. In addition, we performed the same analysis on the HUBMAP data collected on small bowel and MaxFuse showed consistent results (Extended Data Fig. 10).
Additional benchmarking of MaxFuse
We further compared the integration quality within MaxFuse results, across different smoothing schemes (Supplementary Fig. 9), and between pivot and nonpivot cells (Supplementary Fig. 10 and Supplementary Table 1). We validated the improved gene imputation accuracy by MaxFuseenabled matching in a groundtruth multiome dataset, using targeted proteomic features to predict transcript expression at singlecell level (Supplementary Fig. 11). One important potential application of MaxFuse is imputing unmeasured features (for example, transcripts) in spatial proteomic datasets. We benchmarked the effect on integration quality of sequentially reduced antibody panel sizes (Supplementary Fig. 12) and the arealevel gene imputation correlation by artificially dropping protein features in CODEX data (Supplementary Fig. 13).
Discussion
Most existing methods for crossmodal data integration were developed for integration across strongly linked modalities, and their performances decay significantly as the strength of crossmodal linkage weakens. MaxFuse is motivated by and focuses on the challenging case of weak linkage, which has become increasingly common as many emerging study designs include spatial data with targeted marker panels to be collected jointly with singlecell sequencing data.
MaxFuse relies on two key processes to overcome weak linkage. The first is a ‘fuzzy smoothing’ procedure that denoises the linked features by moving their values towards their graphsmoothed values, with the graph determined by all features. The second is an iterative refinement procedure that improves the crossmodal matching through iterative cycles of coembedding, graphsmoothing and matching. This ensures that information from all features, in both modalities, is used to generate the final matching. We demonstrated that MaxFuse substantially improves upon stateoftheart methods, achieving accurate integration of data from targeted protein assays with data from transcriptome and epigenomelevel assays. The applicability of MaxFuse is general. For strong linkage scenarios, MaxFuse accuracy was comparable to scGLUE, a stateoftheart method based on deep learning, but at a considerably lower computational cost. In addition, when joint embedding coordinates from other integration methods are available, these coordinates could serve as linked features in MaxFuse. The light computation architecture and the flexibility in incorporating domain knowledge and existing integration results make the MaxFuse framework applicable to a wide range of crossmodal integration tasks.
Methods
The MaxFuse pipeline
Input preparation
Consider a pair of datasets, \(Y\in {{\mathbb{R}}}^{{N}_{y}\times {p}_{y}}\) and \(Z\in {{\mathbb{R}}}^{{N}_{z}\times {p}_{z}}\), from two modalities (termed Ymodality and Zmodality for exposition convenience), with each row corresponding to a cell and each column a feature. In the ensuing discussion, we treat Y as the modality with a higher signaltonoise ratio. For concreteness, one can think of Y as an snRNAseq dataset and Z as a CODEX dataset. Suppose there are two known functions, \({f}_{y}:{{\mathbb{R}}}^{{p}_{y}}\to {{\mathbb{R}}}^{s}\) and \({f}_{z}:{{\mathbb{R}}}^{{p}_{z}}\to {{\mathbb{R}}}^{s}\), such that \(f_y(\mathbf{y})\) predicts the values of \(f_z(\mathbf{z})\) in a cell if the measured values under Ymodality are \({\mathbf{y}}\) in that cell and those under Zmodality are \({\mathbf{z}}\). For any matrix A with p_{y} columns, let f_{y}(A) denote the matrix with s columns and the same number of rows as A, obtained from applying f_{y} on each row of A and stacking the outputs as row vectors. For any matrix B with p_{z} columns, f_{z}(B) is analogously defined. We define \({Y}^{\circ }={f}_{y}(Y)\in {{\mathbb{R}}}^{{N}_{y}\times s}\) and \({Z}^{\circ }={f}_{z}(Z)\in {{\mathbb{R}}}^{{N}_{Z}\times s}\). In the snRNAseq versus CODEX example, if one has a crude prediction for a subset S (with size \(\left\vert S\right\vert =s\)) of the proteins, then \(f_z(\mathbf{z})={\mathbf{z}}_S\) returns the subvector indexed by S while \({f}_{y}({\bf{y}})={\hat{\mathbf{z}}}_{S}\) predicts the observed CODEX values for these proteins based on transcriptomic information of a cell. In summary, we start with a pair of original datasets (Y, Z) and a pair of datasets (\({Y^{\circ}}\), \({Z^{\circ}}\)), where the columns of the latter have onetoone correspondence based on domain knowledge. The columns of \({Y^{\circ}}\) and \({Z^{\circ}}\) can be learned featurewise prediction functions, as described above, or learned coembedding coordinates from some model trained on multiomics data.
Metacell construction. To alleviate sparsity and to scale to large datasets, we start by constructing metacells. Let n_{y} be the desired number of metacells. We first construct a nearestneighbor graph of the rows of Y, apply Leiden clustering with an appropriate resolution level to obtain n_{y} clusters and average over the rows within each cluster to obtain the features for each metacell. Consequently, we obtain \({Y}_{{\mathtt{m}}}\in {{\mathbb{R}}}^{{n}_{y}\times {p}_{y}}\). Using this clustering structure (induced by Y), we can average feature vectors in \({Y^{\circ}}\) to obtain \({Y}_{{\mathtt{m}}}^{\circ }\in {{\mathbb{R}}}^{{n}_{y}\times s}\). When desired, the same operation can be performed on the Zmodality to obtain \({Z}_{{\mathtt{m}}}\in {{\mathbb{R}}}^{{n}_{z}\times {p}_{z}}\) and \({Z}_{{\mathtt{m}}}^{\circ }\in {{\mathbb{R}}}^{{n}_{z}\times s}\). We recommend only constructing metacells for modalities that allow cell state differentiation at fine granularity. For example, if Ymodality contains snRNAseq data and Zmodality contains CODEX data, then we would usually recommend to construct metacells only in Ymodality. The choices of metacell size for analyses reported in this work are given in Supplementary Table 2. In addition, in Extended Data Figs. 3 and 4 and Supplementary Figs. 1 and 2, we benchmarked robustness of results with respect to metacell size. Metacell sizes of 2–3 are optimal across the datasets we tested. After this curation step, we have two pairs of datasets, \(({Y}_{{\mathtt{m}}}^{},{Z}_{{\mathtt{m}}}^{})\) and \(({Y}_{{\mathtt{m}}}^{\circ },{Z}_{{\mathtt{m}}}^{\circ })\). The former pair can have completely distinct feature sets, while the latter pair must have matching feature sets with corresponding columns. In Fig. 1a, the former correspond to the pair of allfeature matrices, and the latter correspond to the pair of linkedfeature matrices.
Fuzzy smoothing
Let \({G}_{Y}\in {\{0,1\}}^{{n}_{y}\times {n}_{y}}\) be a nearestneighbor graph of \({Y}_{{\mathtt{m}}}^{}\) where each row i is connected to \({k}_{i}^{Y}\) rows that are closest in a chosen similarity measure, including itself. So row i of G_{Y} has \({k}_{i}^{Y}\) entries equal to one and others zeros. In addition, all its diagonal entries are equal to one. Let \({{{{\mathcal{A}}}}}_{Y}({Y}_{{\mathtt{m}}})={K}_{Y}^{1}{G}_{Y}{Y}_{{\mathtt{m}}}\) and \({{{{\mathcal{A}}}}}_{Y}({Y}_{{\mathtt{m}}}^{\circ })={K}_{Y}^{1}{G}_{Y}{Y}_{{\mathtt{m}}}^{\circ }\) be locally averaged versions of \({Y}_{{\mathtt{m}}}^{}\) and \({Y}_{{\mathtt{m}}}^{\circ }\) over G_{Y}, respectively, where \({K}_{Y}={{{\rm{diag}}}}({k}_{1}^{Y},\ldots ,{k}_{{n}_{y}}^{Y})\). For a nearestneighbor graph G_{Z}, we define \({{{{\mathcal{A}}}}}_{Z}({Z}_{{\mathtt{m}}})\) and \({{{{\mathcal{A}}}}}_{Z}({Z}_{{\mathtt{m}}}^{\circ })\) in an analogous way. Finally, for any weight w ∈ [0, 1] and any matrices A and B with n_{y} and n_{z} rows, respectively, we define
In this way, we define \({\widetilde{Y}}_{{\mathtt{m}}}^{\circ }={{{{\mathcal{S}}}}}_{Y}({Y}_{{\mathtt{m}}}^{\circ };{w}_{0})\) and \({\widetilde{Z}}_{{\mathtt{m}}}^{\circ }={{{{\mathcal{S}}}}}_{Z}({Z}_{{\mathtt{m}}}^{\circ };{w}_{0})\) with w_{0} ∈ [0, 1]. In Fig. 1a, these are matrices with smoothed Ymodality linked features and smoothed Zmodality linked features, respectively. See Supplementary Table 3 for a list of smoothing weights used in data analyses reported in this work.
Initial matching via linear assignment
As the columns in \({\widetilde{Y}}_{{\mathtt{m}}}^{\circ }\) and in \({\widetilde{Z}}_{{\mathtt{m}}}^{\circ }\) have correspondences, we can compute an n_{y} × n_{z} distance matrix \({D^{\circ}}\) where \({D}_{ij}^{\circ }\) measures the distance between the ith row in \({\widetilde{Y}}_{{\mathtt{m}}}^{\circ }\) and the jth row in \({\widetilde{Z}}_{{\mathtt{m}}}^{\circ }\) after projecting to respective leading singular subspaces. We obtain an initial matching \({\widehat{\Pi }}^{\circ }\) as the solution to the linear assignment problem^{32,64}:
Here, \({n}_{\min }=\min \{{n}_{y},{n}_{z}\}\) and, for two matrices A and B of the same size, 〈A, B〉 = ∑_{i,j}A_{ij}B_{ij} denotes the trace inner product. The linear assignment problem in equation (2) can be efficiently solved by relaxing the first constraint to \(\Pi \in {[0,1]}^{{n}_{y}\times {n}_{z}}\). The resulting linear program has the same solution as equation (2). The Python implementation we used is based on the shortest augmenting path approach summarized in ref. ^{65}. The estimator \({\widehat{\Pi }}^{\circ }\) provides a relatively crude matching using only the information provided by the previous knowledge encapsulated in f_{y} and f_{z} which link features in the two modalities. By definition, \({\widehat{\Pi }}^{\circ }\) gives \({n}_{\min }\) pairs of matched rows between the two modalities, which we call initial pivots.
Crossmodality joint embedding and iterative refinement
From matched pairs to joint embedding. An estimated matching \(\widehat{\Pi }\) induces a crossmodality joint embedding of \({Y}_{{\mathtt{m}}}^{}\) and \({Z}_{{\mathtt{m}}}^{}\). Let \({Y}_{{\mathtt{m}}}^{\,{\mathtt{r}}}\in {{\mathbb{R}}}^{{n}_{y}\times {r}_{y}}\) and \({Z}_{{\mathtt{m}}}^{\,{\mathtt{r}}}\in {{\mathbb{R}}}^{{n}_{z}\times {r}_{z}}\) collect the leading principal components of all features (that is, \({Y}_{{\mathtt{m}}}^{}\) and \({Z}_{{\mathtt{m}}}^{}\)) in the two modalities, respectively. Here, the numbers of principal components to retain, that is, r_{y} and r_{z}, are chosen based on data. For any matrix A, let [A]_{i⋅} denote its ith row. Suppose \(\{({i}_{\ell },{i}_{\ell }^{{\prime} }):\ell =1,\ldots ,{n}_{\min }\}\) are the matched pairs specified by \(\widehat{\Pi }\). We perform CCA on data pairs
to obtain the leading \({r}_{{\mathtt{cc}}}^{}\) loading vectors for either modality, collected as the columns of \({\widehat{C}}_{y}={\widehat{C}}_{y}(\widehat{\Pi })\) and \({\widehat{C}}_{z}={\widehat{C}}_{z}(\widehat{\Pi })\), respectively. The joint embedding induced by \(\widehat{\Pi }\) is then \({Y}_{{\mathtt{m}}}^{{\mathtt{cc}}}={Y}_{{\mathtt{m}}}^{\,{\mathtt{r}}}{\widehat{C}}_{y}\in {{\mathbb{R}}}^{{n}_{y}\times {r}_{{\mathtt{cc}}}}\) and \({Z}_{{\mathtt{m}}}^{{\mathtt{cc}}}=\)\({Z}_{{\mathtt{m}}}^{{\mathtt{r}}}{\widehat{C}}_{z}\in {{\mathbb{R}}}^{{n}_{z}\times {r}_{{\mathtt{cc}}}}\), the predicted canonical correlation (CC) scores of \({Y}_{{\mathtt{m}}}^{{\mathtt{r}}}\) and \({Z}_{{\mathtt{m}}}^{{\mathtt{r}}}\), respectively.
Iterative refinement. Let \({\widehat{\Pi }}^{(0)}={\widehat{\Pi }}^{\circ }\) be the initial matching obtained from equation (2). We fix a weight w_{1} ∈ [0, 1] and the embedding dimension \({r{}^{{\mathtt{cc}}}}^{}\), and we refine the estimated matching by iterating the following steps for t = 1, …, T:

(1)
Compute joint embedding \(\{{Y}_{{\mathtt{m}}}^{\,{\mathtt{cc}},(t)},{Z}_{{\mathtt{m}}}^{\,{\mathtt{cc}},(t)}\}\) induced by \({\widehat{\Pi }}^{(t1)}\);

(2)
Apply fuzzy smoothing on joint embedding: \({\widetilde{Y}}_{{\mathtt{m}}}^{\,{\mathtt{cc}},(t)}={{{{\mathcal{S}}}}}_{Y}({Y}_{{\mathtt{m}}}^{\,{\mathtt{cc}},(t)},{w}_{1})\), \({\widetilde{Z}}_{{\mathtt{m}}}^{\,{\mathtt{cc}},(t)}={{{{\mathcal{S}}}}}_{Z}({Z}_{{\mathtt{m}}}^{\,{\mathtt{cc}},(t)},{w}_{1})\);

(3)
Calculate a distance matrix \({D}^{(t)}\in {{\mathbb{R}}}^{{n}_{y}\times {n}_{z}}\) where \({D}_{ij}^{(t)}\) measures the distance between \({[{\widetilde{Y}}_{{\mathtt{m}}}^{{\mathtt{cc}},(t)}]}_{i\cdot }\) and \({[{\widetilde{Z}}_{{\mathtt{m}}}^{{\mathtt{cc}},(t)}]}_{j\cdot }\), and obtain a refined matching \({\widehat{\Pi }}^{(t)}\) by solving equation (2) in which \({D^{\circ}}\) is replaced with D^{(t)}.
Figure 1b illustrates the foregoing refinement iteration.
Propagation of matching and postprocessing
For downstream analyses, one would often like to find for each cell in Y a match in Z, or vice versa, and sometimes both ways. In addition, one often wants joint embedding of cells across different modalities in a common space. We now describe how MaxFuse achieves these goals.
Filtering and final joint embedding. Upon obtaining the matched pairs \(\{({i}_{\ell },{i}_{\ell }^{{\prime} }):\ell =1,\ldots ,{n}_{\min }\}\) in \({\widehat{\Pi }}^{(T)}\), we rank them in descending order of \({D}_{{i}_{\ell }{i}_{\ell }^{{\prime} }}^{(T)}\) and only retain the top 100 × (1 − α)% pairs, where α is a userspecified filtering proportion (with a default α = 0). The retained pairs are called refined pivots. Then, we fit a CCA using the refined pivots and the corresponding rows in \({Y}_{{\mathtt{m}}}^{}\) and \({Z}_{{\mathtt{m}}}^{}\) to get the associated CCA loading matrices \({\widehat{C}}_{y}^{{\mathtt{e}}}\in {{\mathbb{R}}}^{{p}_{y}\times {r}^{{\mathtt{e}}}}\) and \({\widehat{C}}_{z}^{{\mathtt{e}}}\in {{\mathbb{R}}}^{{p}_{z}\times {r}^{{\mathtt{e}}}}\). Here the positive integer \({r{}^{{\mathtt{e}}}}^{}\) is a userspecified dimension for final joint embedding. Finally, the joint embedding of the full datasets is given by \({Y}^{{\mathtt{e}}}=Y{\widehat{C}}_{y}^{{\mathtt{e}}}\in {{\mathbb{R}}}^{{N}_{y}\times {r}^{{\mathtt{e}}}}\) and \({Z}^{{\mathtt{e}}}=Z{\widehat{C}}_{z}^{{\mathtt{e}}}\in {{\mathbb{R}}}^{{N}_{z}\times {r}^{{\mathtt{e}}}}\), respectively. In Fig. 1c, they correspond to the Ymodality embedding and Zmodality embedding matrices.
Using pivots to propagate matching. For each row index i ∈ {1, …, n_{y}} in Ymodality that does not have a match in Zmodality, MaxFuse searches for the nearest neighbor of the ith row in \({\widetilde{Y}}_{{\mathtt{m}}}={{{{\mathcal{S}}}}}_{Y}({Y}_{{\mathtt{m}}};{w}_{0})\) that belongs to some refined pivot. Suppose the nearest neighbor is the j_{i}th row with a match \({j}_{i}^{{\prime} }\) in Zmodality, then we call \((i,{j}_{i}^{{\prime} })\) a matched pair obtained via propagation. We can optionally filter out any matched pair via propagation in which the nearestneighbor distance between \({[{\widetilde{Y}}_{{\mathtt{m}}}]}_{i\cdot }\) and \({[{\widetilde{Y}}_{{\mathtt{m}}}]}_{{j}_{i}\cdot }\) is above a userspecified threshold. The retained matched pairs compose the YtoZ propagated matching. This procedure is then repeated with the roles of Y and Zmodalities switched to obtain the ZtoY propagated matching. Pooling all matched pairs from refined pivots and propagated matching together, we obtain a matching between metacells in Ymodality and those in Zmodality. Such a metacelllevel matching defines a singlecelllevel matching between the original datasets Y and Z by declaring \((i,{i}^{{\prime} })\) a matched pair for \(1\le i\le {N}_{y},1\le {i}^{{\prime} }\le {N}_{z}\) if the metacell that i belongs to is matched to the metacell that \({i}^{{\prime} }\) belongs to.
Scoring and directional pruning of matching. For each singlecelllevel matched pair \((i,{i}^{{\prime} })\), we compute Pearson correlation between the ith row of \({Y{}^{{\mathtt{e}}}}^{}\) and the \({i}^{{\prime} }\)th row of \({Z{}^{{\mathtt{e}}}}^{}\) (that is, corresponding rows in final joint embedding) as its matching score. We use these matching scores to prune singlecelllevel matching, with the direction of pruning specified by the user. Suppose the user wants to find for each cell in Z a match in Y (for example, Z is a CODEX dataset and Y snRNAseq). Then for each cell index \(1\le {i}^{{\prime} }\le {N}_{z}\), we first list all refined pivots and propagated matching pairs that contain \({i}^{{\prime} }\). If the list is nonempty, we only retain the pair with the highest matching score. Otherwise, we declare no match for cell \({i}^{{\prime} }\) in Zmodality. If the direction is reversed, we apply the foregoing procedure with the roles of Y and Z switched. Furthermore, if no directional pruning is desired, we just keep all refined pivots and postscreening propagated matching pairs in the final singlecell matching. In Extended Data Figs. 3 and 4 and Supplementary Figs. 1 and 2, we benchmarked how evaluation metrics change with different choices of filtering proportions in propagation and in pruning. In Supplementary Table 4, we reported the filtering proportions used in the data analyses reported in this work. After filtering, propagation and potential pruning, the final list of matched pairs corresponds to the final matching in Fig. 1c.
Systematic benchmarking on groundtruth datasets
MaxFuse and other methods in comparison
MaxFuse was implemented in Python, and the four methods used for comparison, Seurat V3, Harmony, Liger and BindSC, were implemented in R. All benchmarking datasets were preprocessed in the same way for all methods, including filtering of lowquality cells, selection of highly variable genes and protein features to be used in integration, feature linkage scheme (for example, protein to their corresponding gene names) and normalization of raw observed values (except for Liger which required scaling without centering). We used the default tuning parameters in each method suggested by the respective tutorial, with the exception of BindSC, for which we used the separate set of parameters suggested for the integration of proteinrelated data by its method tutorial website. For MaxFuse, initial matching used features that are weakly linked (for example, protein CD4 and RNA CD4) and are smoothed by allfeature nearestneighbor graphs. For refined matching, all features from both modalities were used (for example, all proteins and RNAs that are highly variable). For other methods in comparison, BindSC used both the weakly linked features and all features, whereas others only used the weakly linked features by design. The full details were recorded and can be reproduced, with code deposited to https://github.com/shuxiaoc/maxfuse/tree/main/Archive.
Evaluation metrics

(1)
Celltype matching accuracy: To evaluate the matching performance for Seurat V3, Liger, Harmony and BindSC, we used the respective integration embedding vectors produced by each method. For these methods, for each cell in one modality, we regarded its nearest neighbor from the other modality under Pearson correlation distance in the embedding space as its match. For MaxFuse, we directly used matched pairs produced in the final result. For all methods, we use the same matching direction (for example, for each cell in CODEX data finding a matched cell in scRNAseq data) for fair comparison. Accuracy of the matchings was measured by fraction of matched pairs with identical celltype annotations. Details on celltype annotation are given below in the description of each benchmarking dataset.

(2)
FOSCTTM: FOSCTTM was used to evaluate singlecelllevel alignment accuracy on datasets with groundtruth singlecelllevel pairing. The measure has been used previously in crossmodality alignment benchmarking tasks^{19,36,37}. For such data, N_{y} = N_{z} = N, and FOSCTTM is defined as:
$${{{\rm{FOSCTTM}}}}=\frac{1}{2N}\left(\mathop{\sum }\limits_{i=1}^{N}\frac{{n}_{y}^{(i)}}{N}+\mathop{\sum }\limits_{i=1}^{N}\frac{{n}_{z}^{(i)}}{N}\right),$$where for each \(i,{n}_{y}^{(i)}=\left\vert \{\,j\left.\right\vert d({\,y}_{i},{z}_{j}) < d({\,y}_{i},{z}_{i})\}\right\vert\) with d a distance metric in the joint embedding space and for l = 1, …, N, y_{l} and z_{l} are the embedded vectors of the lth cell with its measurements in Y and Zmodality, respectively. The counts \({n}_{z}^{(i)},i=1,\ldots ,N\), are defined analogously. A lower value of FOSCTTM indicates better integration performance.

(3)
FOSKNN: FOSKNN was used to evaluate singlecelllevel alignment accuracy on datasets with groundtruth singlecelllevel pairing. For such data, N_{y} = N_{z} = N. For any method in comparison, let {y_{i}: i = 1, …, N} be the coordinates of cells in the joint embedding space from their Ymodality information, and let {z_{i}: i = 1, …, N} be embedding coordinates from their Zmodality information. Then
$${{{\rm{FOSKNN}}}}=\frac{1}{2N}\left(\mathop{\sum }\limits_{i=1}^{N}{{{{\bf{1}}}}}_{{E}_{y,k}}^{(i)}+\mathop{\sum }\limits_{i=1}^{N}{{{{\bf{1}}}}}_{{E}_{z,k}}^{(i)}\right)$$where for \(i=1,\ldots ,N,{{{{\bf{1}}}}}_{{E}_{y,k}}^{(i)}\) is the indicator of whether the k closest embedded vectors from Zmodality to y_{i} includes z_{i}. The quantity \({{{{\bf{1}}}}}_{{E}_{z,k}}^{(i)}\) is defined analogously. A higher value of FOSKNN indicates better integration performance.

(4)
Silhouette F1 score: Silhouette F1 score has been used to simultaneously measure modality mixing and information preservation post integration process^{21,35}. In brief, the F1 score was calculated by 2 ⋅ slt_mix ⋅ slt_clust/(slt_mix + slt_clust), where slt_mix is defined as one minus normalized Silhouette width with the label being modality index (two modalities); slt_clust is defined by the normalized Silhouette width with the label being celltype annotations (for example, ‘CD4 T’, ‘CD8 T’, ‘B’ and so on). All Silhouette widths were computed using the silhouette function from R package cluster.

(5)
ARI F1 score: ARI F1 score has been used to jointly measure modality mixing and information preservation post integration process^{21,35}. The score was calculated in a similar way to Silhouette F1 score, while the ARI was used instead of the Silhouette width. All ARI scores were computed using the function adjustedRandIndex in R package mclust.
CITEseq PBMC dataset analysis
The CITEseq data from human PBMCs with antibody panel of 228 markers were retrieved from Hao et al.^{33} and celltype annotations (level 1: 8 cell types; and level 2: 31 cell types) were directly retrieved from the original annotation in ref. ^{33}. For benchmarking purposes, five batches of cells, each with 10,000 cells, were randomly sampled from the original dataset and used for benchmarking. The first 15 components of the embedding vectors produced by all methods were used for benchmarking metric calculation. The UMAP visualization of the integration process was also calculated with the first 15 components of the embedding vectors. For visualization purposes, the 31 cell types of level 2 annotation were manually binned into 20 cell types in the UMAP celltype coloring.
For analyses with fewer antibodies, we ranked the importance of each individual antibody in the panel in terms of phenotyping contribution. The importance score was calculated by training a random forest model (function randomForest in R package randomForest, with default parameters) using all antibodies to predict celltype labels (annotation level 2), then a permutation feature importance test (function varImp with default parameters in R package caret) was performed on the trained model to acquire the importance scores. Then antibodies were ranked by the importance scores, and four panels were used for the antibody dropping test: (1) full 228antibody panel; (2) top 100 most important antibodies; (3) top 50 most important antibodies; (4) top 30 most important antibodies.
CITEseq bone marrow cell dataset analysis
The CITEseq healthy human bone marrow cells (BMCs) data with an antibody panel of 25 markers were retrieved from the R package SeuratData ‘bmcite’; these data were also reported by Hao et al.^{33}. A total of 20,000 cells were randomly sampled from the original dataset and used for benchmarking. The first 15 components of the embedding vectors produced by all methods were used for benchmarking metric calculation. The UMAP visualization of the integration process was also calculated with the first 15 components of the embedding vectors. The original celltype annotation (lv2) from the R package was binned into eight populations, ‘DC’, ‘progenitor’, ‘monocyte’, ‘NK’, ‘B’, ‘CD4 T’, ‘CD8 T’ and ‘Other T’, and used for benchmarking.
Abseq BMC dataset analysis
The Abseq healthy human BMC data with antibody panel of 97 markers and whole transcriptome sequencing were retrieved from Triana et al.^{39}. All cells in the dataset (~13,000), except cells belonging to cell types with insufficient numbers of cells (<50 cells, annotated as ‘Doublet and Triplets’, ‘Early GMP’, ‘Gamma delta T cells’, ‘Immature B cells’, ‘Metaphase MPPs’, ‘Neutrophils’ in ref. ^{39}), were included for integration. The remaining 14 cell types were used during benchmarking. The first 15 components of the embedding vectors produced by all methods were used for benchmarking metric calculation. The UMAP visualization of the integration process was also calculated with the first 15 components of the embedding vectors.
TEAseq PBMC dataset analysis
The TEAseq neutrophildepleted human PBMC dataset was retrieved from Swanson et al.^{41} (GSM4949911). This dataset contains 46 antibodies and chromatin accessibility information. Celltype annotation was performed using R package Seurat (v.4) WNNmultimodal clustering pipeline: function FindMultiModalNeighbors was run on the antibodyderived tags (ADT) assay principal component analysis (PCA) output (first 25 components) and the ATAC assay latent semantic indexing (LSI) output (first 2–50 components, calculated by R package Archr^{42}). Subsequently, the function FindClusters was used to generate unsupervised clustering (with parameters algorithm = 3, resolution = 0.2), followed by manual annotation. A total of eight populations were identified (‘Naive CD4’, ‘Mem CD4’, ‘Monocyte’, ‘NK’, ‘Naive CD8’, ‘Mem CD8’, ‘Effector CD8’, ‘B’, ‘NK’), and the total number of cells was ~7,400. ADT expressions and gene activity scores (calculated by R package Archr^{42}) were used as input for MaxFuse and other methods. Additionally, during matching refinement, MaxFuse used LSI reductions of the ATAC peaks (first 2–50 components) as features for the ATAC modality. The first 15 components of the embedding vectors produced by all methods were used for benchmarking metric calculation. The UMAP visualization of the integration process was also calculated with the first 15 components of the embedding vectors.
ASAPseq PBMC dataset analysis
The ASAPseq healthy human PBMC data (CD28 and CD3 stim PBMC control group) with an antibody panel of 227 markers and chromatin accessibility information were retrieved from Mimitou et al.^{40} (GSM4732109 and GSM4732110). Celltype annotation was performed using R package Seurat (v.4) WNNmultimodal clustering pipeline: the function FindMultiModalNeighbors was run on ADT PCA (first 18 components) and ATAC LSI (2–40 components, calculated by R package Archr). Subsequently, the function FindClusters was used to generate unsupervised clustering (with parameters algorithm = 3, resolution = 0.3), followed by manual annotation. A total of nine populations were identified (‘Naive CD4’, ‘Mem CD4’, ‘Monocyte’, ‘NK’, ‘Naive CD8’, ‘Mem CD8’, ‘B’, ‘Other T’, ‘dirt’), and ‘dirt’ was removed from subsequent analyses, resulting in about 4,400 cells used. ADT expressions and gene activity scores (calculated by R package Archr) were used as input for MaxFuse and other methods. Additionally, during matching refinement, MaxFuse used LSI reductions of the ATAC peaks (first 2–50 components) as features for the ATAC modality. The first 15 components of the embedding vectors produced by all methods were used for benchmarking metric calculation. The UMAP visualization of the integration process was also calculated with the first 15 components of the embedding vectors.
MaxFuse on spatialomics matching
CODEX and scRNAseq human tonsil dataset analysis
CODEX multiplex imaging data of human tonsil tissues with a panel of 46 antibodies were retrieved from KennedyDarling et al.^{49}. Images from tonsil9338 (region X28, Y715) were used. Wholecell segmentation was performed with a local implementation of Mesmer^{66}, with weights downloaded from: https://deepcelldata.s3uswest1.amazonaws.com/modelweights/Multiplex_Segmentation_20200908_2_head.h5. Inputs of segmentation were DAPI (nuclear) and CD45 (membrane). Signals from the images were capped at 99.7th percentile, with prediction parameter model_mpp = 0.8. Cells smaller than 30 pixels or larger than 800 pixels were excluded. Signals from individual cells were then extracted, and scaled to the [0, 1] interval, with percentile cutoffs at 0.5% (floor) and 99.5% (ceiling). Celltype annotation was performed using R package Seurat clustering pipeline: the function FindNeighbors was run on CODEX protein PCA (first 15 components). Subsequently, the function FindClusters was used to generate unsupervised clustering (with parameter resolution = 1), followed by manual annotation. A total of ten populations were identified (‘BCD22CD40’, ‘BKi67’, ‘Plasma’, ‘CD4 T’, ‘CD8 T’, ‘DC’, ‘Fibro/Epi’, ‘Vessel’, ‘Other’ and ‘Dirt’), and six populations (~180,000 cells in total) were used in subsequent analyses (‘BCD22CD40’, ‘BKi67’, ‘Plasma’, ‘CD4 T’, ‘CD8 T’ and ‘DC’).
scRNAseq data of dissociated human tonsil cells were retrieved from King et al.^{50}. The preprocessing and cell typing steps were done in the R package Seurat, following the description presented in ref. ^{50}. In brief, tonsil cells (‘t1’, ‘t2’ and ‘t3’) were merged, then filtered by the criteria nFeature_RNA > 200 & nFeature_RNA < 7500 & percent.mt < 20, and subsequently values were normalized by the function SCTransform. Harmony batch correction was performed for different tonsils for clustering only, with the function RunHarmony. Unsupervised clustering was performed by the function FindNeighbors with Harmony embedding (1–27 dimensions) and function FindClusters with resolution = 0.5. A total of eight populations were defined (‘BCD22CD40’, ‘BKi67’, ‘circulating B’, ‘Plasma’, ‘CD4 T’, ‘CD8 T’, ‘DC’, ‘Other’), and six populations (~13,000 cells in total) were used in subsequent analyses (‘BCD22CD40’, ‘BKi67’, ‘Plasma’, ‘CD4 T’, ‘CD8 T’ and ‘DC’).
Boundaries of GCs from the CODEX images were drawn manually, and dilation and erosion from the boundary was performed with the Python package skimage, with functions morphology.binary_dilation and morphology.disk. Ten layers inward and ten layers outward from the boundary (each layer = 30 pixels; resolution: 376 nm per pixel) were performed, respectively. Cells were assigned to each layer based on locations of centroids. The RNA expression levels from each layer, based on the averaged CODEXmatched scRNAseq cells, were plotted with the R package ggplot2. The UMAP visualization of the integration process was calculated with the first 15 components of the embedding vectors.
HUBMAP atlas: trimodal human intestine dataset analysis
CODEX multiplex imaging (48 markers), snRNAseq and snATACseq data of healthy human intestine cells were acquired from Hickey et al.^{31}. For CODEX, samples ‘B005_SB’ and ‘B006_CL’ were used, while for snRNAseq and snATACseq, singleome sequencing data of four donors (‘B001’, ‘B004’, ‘B005’, ‘B006’) from the study were used. Cells annotated as ‘B cells’, ‘T cells’, ‘Endothelial’, ‘Enteroendocrine’, ‘Goblet’, ‘Mono_Macrophages’, ‘Plasma’, ‘Smooth muscle’ and ‘Stroma’ were selected for the integration process. Cell counts for each modality used for MaxFuse were: CODEX ~100,000 (small bowel) and ~70,000 (colon); snRNAseq ~32,000 (small bowel) and ~16,000 (colon); snATACseq ~28,000 (small bowel) and ~21,000 (colon). CODEX protein expressions, snRNAseq RNA expressions, snATACseq gene activity scores and LSI scores (calculated with R package Archr) were used as MaxFuse input (RNA expressions, gene activity scores and LSI scores were batchcorrected by Harmony^{20}, based on patient ID). The matching and integration processes were done on colon and small bowel samples, respectively.
Pairwise MaxFuse alignments of cells between protein (CODEX) and RNA (snRNAseq), and of cells between RNA (snRNAseq) and ATAC (snATACseq), were performed. Refined pivots from the two bimodal alignments were chained together by using the pivot cells in the RNA modality as the intermediary, resulting in a list of trimodal pivots linking all three modalities. Subsequently, we used these pivots to calculate a triomic embedding via gCCA^{21,59}. In particular, we used the gCCA formulation and algorithm described in ref. ^{21}.
The UMAP visualization of the trimodal integration was calculated with the first 15 components of the embedding vectors (gCCA scores in this case). Embeddings of CODEX cells were overlaid with their protein expressions, or their matched cells’ RNA expressions, or gene activity scores. Spatial locations of these expression values and scores were plotted based on CODEX cells’ x–y centroid locations. Additionally, we showed spatial locations of transcription factor motif enrichment scores (Zscore) of CODEX cells, based on their matched snRNAseq cells, which were calculated by the R package chromVAR^{60}. All values were capped between 5% and 95% quantiles for visualization purposes during plotting.
Reporting summary
Further information on research design is available in the Nature Portfolio Reporting Summary linked to this article.
Data availability
All data used in this manuscript are publicly available. The links are listed here: CITEseq PBMC from Hao et al.^{33}: https://atlas.fredhutch.org/data/nygc/multimodal/pbmc_multimodal.h5seurat; CITEseq BMC from Hao et al.^{33}: https://satijalab.org/seurat/articles/multimodal_reference_mapping.html (file: ‘bmcite’ with ’SeuratData’); Abseq BMC from Triana et al.^{39}: https://figshare.com/articles/dataset/Expression_of_97_surface_markers_and_RNA_transcriptome_wide_in_13165_cells_from_a_healthy_young_bone_marrow_donor/13397987; TEAseq PBMC from Swanson et al.: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/geo/query/acc.cgi?acc=GSM4949911; ASAPseq PBMC from Mimitou et al.^{40}: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/geo/query/acc.cgi?acc=GSE156473 (GSM4732109 and GSM4732110); CODEX tonsil from Kennedy et al.^{49}: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/eji.202048891; scRNAseq tonsil from King et al.^{50}: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/geo/query/acc.cgi?acc=GSE165860 (tonsil 1a, 1b, 2a, 2b, 3a, 3b); Multiome (scRNAseq and scATACseq) retina from Wang et al.^{48}: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/geo/query/acc.cgi?acc=GSM5866073; Multiome (scRNAseq and scATACseq) PBMC from 10x Genomics datasets^{46}: https://www.10xgenomics.com/resources/datasets (PBMC from a Healthy Donor  Granulocytes Removed Through Cell Sorting (10k)); Multiome (scRNAseq and scATACseq) mouse E18 from 10x Genomics datasets^{46}: https://www.10xgenomics.com/resources/datasets (Fresh Embryonic E18 Mouse Brain (5k)); Multiome (scRNAseq and scATACseq) cerebral cortex from Trevino et al.^{47}: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/geo/query/acc.cgi?acc=GSE162170 (multiome samples).
Code availability
All code used in this study, including the MaxFuse software and the analysis code, can be found at https://github.com/shuxiaoc/maxfuse.
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Acknowledgements
We thank Y. Jiang for initial discussions and for sharing the preprocessed data for 10x multiome PBMC and embryonic mouse brain datasets, and W. Zhang for help with tuning CELESTA. B.Z. was supported by a Stanford Graduate Fellowship. J.W.H. was supported by an NIH T32 Fellowship (grant no. T32CA196585) and an American Cancer Society: Roaring Fork Valley Postdoctoral Fellowship (grant no. PF2003201CSM). This work was funded in part by grants from the National Science Foundation (grant no. DMS2210104; Z.M.), the National Institutes of Health (grant nos. R01HG00613711, U2CCA233285; N.R.Z.), the Mark Foundation Center for Radiobiology and Immunology (N.R.Z.), the National Institutes of Health (grant no. 3U54HG010426; J.W.H., M.S., W.J.G., G.P.N.), the US Food and Drug Administration Medical Countermeasures Initiative (contracts HHSF223201610018C and 75F40120C00176; G.P.N.), the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy (G.P.N.), the Hope Foundation (G.P.N.) and the Rachford and Carlota A. Harris Endowed Professorship (G.P.N.). This article reflects the views of the authors and should not be construed as representing the views or policies of the institutions who provided funding.
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S.C., B.Z., G.P.N., N.R.Z. and Z.M. conceptualized the study. S.C., N.R.Z. and Z.M. were responsible for algorithm development and implementation. S.C., B.Z., S.H. and Z.M. analyzed the data. J.W.H., K.Z.L., M.S., W.J.G. and G.P.N. contributed key reagents and tools. G.P.N., N.R.Z. and Z.M. supervised the study. Both S.C. and B.Z. contributed equally and have the right to list their names first in their CVs.
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10x Genomics holds the license to patents in which W.J.G. is listed as an inventor. W.J.G. is an equity holder of 10x Genomics, and a cofounder of Protillion Biosciences. W.J.G. consults for Guardant Health, Quantapore, Protillion Biosciences, Ultima Genomics, Lamar Health and Erdio Biosciences. M.S. is a cofounder and an advisory board member of Personalis, Qbio, January AI, Mirvie, Filtricine, Fodsel, Protos, RTHM, Marble Therapeutics and Crosshair Therapeutics. G.P.N. received research grants from Pfizer, Vaxart, Celgene and Juno Therapeutics; and has equity in and is a scientific advisory board member of Akoya Biosciences. The remaining authors declare no competing interests.
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Extended data
Extended Data Fig. 1 Benchmarking on groundtruth CITEseq PBMC data with all 228 antibodies from Hao et al.^{}33.
(A) UMAP visualization of Liger, Harmony, and BindSC integration results, colored by modality (upper panel) or level 2 cell types (lower panel). (B) Cell matching accuracy results (cell type level 1) of different methods.
Extended Data Fig. 2 Benchmarking on groundtruth CITEseq PBMC data with top 30 antibodies from Hao et al.^{}33.
(A) UMAP visualization of Liger, Harmony, and BindSC integration results, colored by modality (upper panel) or level 2 cell types (lower panel). (B) Cell matching accuracy results (cell type level 1) of different methods.
Extended Data Fig. 3 Benchmarking of robustness to tuning parameters in MaxFuse integration on CITEseq PBMC with all 228 antibodies from Hao et al.^{}33, evaluated by matching accuracy at two levels.
(A) Matching accuracy (cell type level 1) versus a range of SVD components for different modalities, smoothing weights during initialization and refinement, filtering percentages on pivot and on full matching, number of iterations, final CCA embedding dimensions, metacell size, and NNgraph neighborhood size. Line indicates mean value and shadow indicates 95% CI on both sides. (B) Matching accuracy (cell type level 2) versus a range of SVD components for different modalities, smoothing weights during initialization and refinement, filtering percentages on pivot and on full matching, number of iterations, final CCA embedding dimensions, metacell size, and NNgraph neighborhood size. Line indicates mean value and shadow indicates 95% CI on both sides.
Extended Data Fig. 4 Benchmarking of robustness to tuning parameters in MaxFuse integration on CITEseq PBMC with all 228 antibodies from Hao et al.^{}33, evaluated by FOSCTTM and FOSKNN.
(A) FOSCTTM scores versus a range of SVD components for different modalities, smoothing weights during initialization and refinement, filtering percentages on pivot and on full matching, number of iterations, final CCA embedding dimensions, metacell size, and NNgraph neighborhood size. Line indicates mean value and shadow indicates 95% CI on both sides. (B) FOSKNN scores versus a range of SVD components for different modalities, smoothing weights during initialization and refinement, filtering percentages on pivot and on full matching, number of iterations, final CCA embedding dimensions, metacell size, and NNgraph neighborhood size. Line indicates mean value and shadow indicates 95% CI on both sides.
Extended Data Fig. 5 Benchmarking of MaxFuse on groundtruth strongly linked modalities against modality specialized methods.
(A) Four groundtruth scRNA/scATAC multiome datasets used for the benchmarking of MaxFuse against specialized methods for scRNA/scATAC integration tasks (scGLUE, scJoint and Maestro). (B) Runtime benchmark on Retina data^{48} with different subsample sizes (2,500, 5,000, 10,000, and 20,000 cells). Methods with GPU option (scJoint and scGLUE) were tested under both CPUonly and GPU modes. MaxFuse, scJoint (CPUonly), and scGLUE (CPUonly) experiments were performed on a MacBook Pro with M1 Max CPU. scJoint (GPU) and scGLUE (GPU) experiments were performed on a Linux workstation with dual Intel i910980XE CPUs and dual NVIDIA Quadro RTX 8000 GPUs. Due to M1 silicon incompatibility, Maestro experiments were performed on a Linux workstation with dual Intel i910980XE CPUs and dual NVIDIA Quadro RTX 8000 GPUs. The reported Maestro runtimes were calibrated against scJoint runtimes on both computing platforms to ensure fair comparison. Line indicates mean value and shadow indicates 95% CI on both sides. (C) Cell matching accuracy (cell type level) of different methods on the four datasets. (D) FOSCTTM scores of different methods on the four datasets. (E) FOSKNN scores of different methods on the four datasets. (F) Silhouette F1 scores (y axis) and ARI F1 scores (x axis) of joint embeddings produced by different methods on the four datasets.
Extended Data Fig. 6 Benchmarking on human tonsil CODEX and scRNAseq data from KennedyDarling et al.^{}49 and King et al.^{50}.
(A) UMAP visualization of Seurat, Liger, Harmony, and BindSC integration results, colored by modality (upper panel) or cell types (lower panel). (B) Cell matching accuracy results (cell type level) of different methods.
Extended Data Fig. 7 Experimental validation of MaxFuse predicted mRNA spatial expression pattern.
RNAscope was performed on freshfrozen human tonsil tissue to validate the spatial expression pattern of AICDA and CCR6. The top row demonstrates MaxFuse predicted mRNA spatial expression patterns of AICDA and CCR6 (taken from Fig. 4E). Three representative germinal centers were shown in the second to the fourth row, with the red line indicating germinal center boundary and the white line indicating CCR6 boundary. Within each row, from left to right: nucleus (DAPI) channel, AICDA RNAscope channel, and CCR6 RNAscope channel. Only 3 representative GCs were shown in the figure due to the limitation of space. The conclusion was made by validating > 20 individual GCs.
Extended Data Fig. 8 Benchmarking of MaxFuse run time and memory usage on integrating large datasets.
(A) Run time and peak memory usage of MaxFuse on large spatial proteomicrelated integration (with batching): HUBMAP colon CODEX & snRNAseq^{31} integration where up to 2 million CODEX cells were tested. In all settings, around 18,000 snRNAseq cells were used. (B) Run time and peak memory usage of MaxFuse without batching (top row) and with batching (bottom row), tested on randomly sampled subsets of different sizes from the CITEseq PBMC data^{33}.
Extended Data Fig. 9 Additional markers showing consistent expression patterns across trimodalities for Fig. 5.
(A) Upper row: UMAP visualization of CODEX cells based on the integration embedding, overlaid with MUC2 protein expression (from CODEX cells themselves, left panel), MUC2 RNA expression (from matched snRNAseq cells, middle panel), MUC2 gene activity score (from matched snATACseq cells, right panel). Lower row: Spatial locations of CODEX cells based on their centroids’ xy positions, overlaid with the same expression features as in the corresponding panels of the upper row. (B) Upper row: UMAP visualization of CODEX cells based on the integration embedding, overlaid with aSMA protein expression (from CODEX cells themselves, left panel), ACTA2 RNA expression (from matched snRNAseq cells, middle panel), ACTA2 gene activity score (from matched snATACseq cells, right panel). Lower row: Spatial locations of CODEX cells based on their centroids’ xy positions, overlaid with the same expression features as in the corresponding panels of the upper row.
Extended Data Fig. 10 Trimodal integration with MaxFuse on HUBMAP small bowel data.
(A) Representative cell type spatial locations on CODEX HUBMAP small bowel tissue. (B) UMAP visualization of the trimodal integration embedding produced by MaxFuse, colored by modality: Protein, RNA and ATAC (left panel) and colored by cell type (right panel). (C) Upper row: UMAP visualization of CODEX cells based on the integration embedding, overlaid with CD163 protein expression (from CODEX cells themselves, left panel), CD163 RNA expression (from matched snRNAseq cells, middle panel), CD163 gene activity score (from matched snATACseq cells, right panel). Lower row: Spatial locations of CODEX cells based on their centroids’ xy positions, overlaid with the same expression features as in the corresponding panels of the upper row. (D) Spatial locations of CODEX cells based on their centroids’ xy positions, overlaid with the transcription factor motif enrichment scores (Zscores, calculated by chromVAR^{60}), based on their matched snATACseq cells.
Supplementary information
Supplementary Information
Supplementary Figs. 1–13, material and methods, and Tables 1–5.
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Chen, S., Zhu, B., Huang, S. et al. Integration of spatial and singlecell data across modalities with weakly linked features. Nat Biotechnol (2023). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41587023019350
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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41587023019350