Strategy and software for the statistical spatial analysis of 3D intracellular distributions

Plant J. 2016 Jul;87(2):230-42. doi: 10.1111/tpj.13189. Epub 2016 Jul 8.


The localization of proteins in specific domains or compartments in the 3D cellular space is essential for many fundamental processes in eukaryotic cells. Deciphering spatial organization principles within cells is a challenging task, in particular because of the large morphological variations between individual cells. We present here an approach for normalizing variations in cell morphology and for statistically analyzing spatial distributions of intracellular compartments from collections of 3D images. The method relies on the processing and analysis of 3D geometrical models that are generated from image stacks and that are used to build representations at progressively increasing levels of integration, ultimately revealing statistical significant traits of spatial distributions. To make this methodology widely available to end-users, we implemented our algorithmic pipeline into a user-friendly, multi-platform, and freely available software. To validate our approach, we generated 3D statistical maps of endomembrane compartments at subcellular resolution within an average epidermal root cell from collections of image stacks. This revealed unsuspected polar distribution patterns of organelles that were not detectable in individual images. By reversing the classical 'measure-then-average' paradigm, one major benefit of the proposed strategy is the production and display of statistical 3D representations of spatial organizations, thus fully preserving the spatial dimension of image data and at the same time allowing their integration over individual observations. The approach and software are generic and should be of general interest for experimental and modeling studies of spatial organizations at multiple scales (subcellular, cellular, tissular) in biological systems.

Keywords: Arabidopsis thaliana; density estimation; green fluorescent protein-ARA6; green fluorescent protein-KORRIGAN1; non-linear warping; shape averaging; shape registration; spatial distributions; three-dimensional cell imaging.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Arabidopsis / ultrastructure
  • Cells / ultrastructure*
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins / metabolism
  • Imaging, Three-Dimensional / methods*
  • Software
  • Spatial Analysis
  • Subcellular Fractions / ultrastructure


  • Green Fluorescent Proteins