Since the development of single-cell RNA sequencing (scRNA-seq) technologies, clustering analysis of single-cell gene expression data has been an essential tool for distinguishing cell types and identifying novel cell types. Even though many methods have been available for scRNA-seq clustering analysis, the majority of them are constrained by the requirement on predetermined cluster numbers or the dependence on selected initial cluster assignment.


In this article, we propose an adaptive embedding and clustering method named scAce, which constructs a variational autoencoder to simultaneously learn cell embeddings and cluster assignments. In the scAce method, we develop an adaptive cluster merging approach which achieves improved clustering results without the need to estimate the number of clusters in advance. In addition, scAce provides an option to perform clustering enhancement, which can update and enhance cluster assignments based on previous clustering results from other methods. Based on computational analysis of both simulated and real datasets, we demonstrate that scAce outperforms state-of-the-art clustering methods for scRNA-seq data, and achieves better clustering accuracy and robustness.

Availability and implementation

The scAce package is implemented in python 3.8 and is freely available from

This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted reuse, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.