MENDER: fast and scalable tissue structure identification in spatial omics data

Zhiyuan Yuan
Nature Communications


Tissue structure identification is a crucial task in spatial omics data analysis, for which increasingly complex models, such as Graph Neural Networks and Bayesian networks, are employed. However, whether increased model complexity can effectively lead to improved performance is a notable question in the field. Inspired by the consistent observation of cellular neighborhood structures across various spatial technologies, we propose Multi-range cEll coNtext DEciphereR (MENDER), for tissue structure identification. Applied on datasets of 3 brain regions and a whole-brain atlas, MENDER, with biology-driven design, offers substantial improvements over modern complex models while automatically aligning labels across slices, despite using much less running time than the second-fastest. MENDER’s identification power allows the uncovering of previously overlooked spatial domains that exhibit strong associations with brain aging. MENDER’s scalability makes it freely appliable on a million-level brain spatial atlas. MENDER’s discriminative power enables the differentiation of breast cancer patient subtypes obscured by single-cell analysis.