Neuron Image Analyzer: Automated and Accurate Extraction of Neuronal Data from Low Quality Images

Sci Rep. 2015 Nov 23;5:17062. doi: 10.1038/srep17062.


Image analysis software is an essential tool used in neuroscience and neural engineering to evaluate changes in neuronal structure following extracellular stimuli. Both manual and automated methods in current use are severely inadequate at detecting and quantifying changes in neuronal morphology when the images analyzed have a low signal-to-noise ratio (SNR). This inadequacy derives from the fact that these methods often include data from non-neuronal structures or artifacts by simply tracing pixels with high intensity. In this paper, we describe Neuron Image Analyzer (NIA), a novel algorithm that overcomes these inadequacies by employing Laplacian of Gaussian filter and graphical models (i.e., Hidden Markov Model, Fully Connected Chain Model) to specifically extract relational pixel information corresponding to neuronal structures (i.e., soma, neurite). As such, NIA that is based on vector representation is less likely to detect false signals (i.e., non-neuronal structures) or generate artifact signals (i.e., deformation of original structures) than current image analysis algorithms that are based on raster representation. We demonstrate that NIA enables precise quantification of neuronal processes (e.g., length and orientation of neurites) in low quality images with a significant increase in the accuracy of detecting neuronal changes post-stimulation.