Background Pediatric high-grade gliomas (PHGG) are aggressive brain tumors with five-year survival rates ranging from less than 2% to 20% depending upon subtype. PHGG presents differently from patient to patient and is intratumorally heterogeneous, posing challenges in designing therapies. We hypothesized that heterogeneity occurs because PHGG comprises multiple distinct tumor and immune cell types in varying proportions, each of which may influence tumor characteristics. Methods We obtained 19 PHGG samples from our institution’s pediatric brain tumor bank. We constructed a comprehensive transcriptomic dataset at the single-cell level using single-cell RNA-Seq (scRNA-Seq), identified known glial and immune cell types, and performed differential gene expression and gene set enrichment analysis. We conducted multi-channel immunofluorescence (IF) staining to confirm the transcriptomic results. Results Our PHGG samples included three principal predicted tumor cell types: astrocytes, oligodendrocyte progenitors (OPCs), and mesenchymal-like cells (Mes). These cell types differed in their gene expression profiles, pathway enrichment, and mesenchymal character. We identified a macrophage population enriched in mesenchymal and inflammatory gene expression as a possible source of mesenchymal tumor characteristics. We found evidence of T-cell exhaustion and suppression. Conclusions PHGG comprises multiple distinct proliferating tumor cell types. Microglia-derived macrophages may drive mesenchymal gene expression in PHGG. The predicted Mes tumor cell population likely derives from OPCs. The variable tumor cell populations rely on different oncogenic pathways and are thus likely to vary in their responses to therapy.
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