Quantile Index Biomarkers Based on Single-Cell Expression Data

Misung Yi*, Tingting Zhan, Amy R. Peck, Jeffrey A. Hooke, Albert J. Kovatich, Craig D. Shriver, Hai Hu, Yunguang Sun, Hallgeir Rui, Inna Chervoneva

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Current histocytometry methods enable single-cell quantification of biomolecules in tumor tissue sections by multiple detection technologies, including multiplex fluorescence-based immunohistochemistry or in situ hybridization. Quantitative pathology platforms can provide distributions of cellular signal intensity (CSI) levels of biomolecules across the entire cell populations of interest within the sampled tumor tissue. However, the heterogeneity of CSI levels is usually ignored, and the simple mean signal intensity value is considered a cancer biomarker. Here we consider the entire distribution of CSI expression levels of a given biomolecule in the cancer cell population as a predictor of clinical outcome. The proposed quantile index (QI) biomarker is defined as the weighted average of CSI distribution quantiles in individual tumors. The weight for each quantile is determined by fitting a functional regression model for a clinical outcome. That is, the weights are optimized so that the resulting QI has the highest power to predict a relevant clinical outcome. The proposed QI biomarkers were derived for proteins expressed in cancer cells of malignant breast tumors and demonstrated improved prognostic value compared with the standard mean signal intensity predictors. The R package Qindex implementing QI biomarkers has been developed. The proposed approach is not limited to immunohistochemistry data and can be based on any cell-level expressions of proteins or nucleic acids.

Original languageEnglish
Article number100158
JournalLaboratory Investigation
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • cancer biomarker
  • distribution quantiles
  • linear functional Cox model
  • multiplex immunofluorescence-immunohistochemistry
  • single-cell imaging


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