Metrics for comparing neuronal tree shapes based on persistent homology

PLoS One. 2017 Aug 15;12(8):e0182184. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0182184. eCollection 2017.


As more and more neuroanatomical data are made available through efforts such as NeuroMorpho.Org and, the need to develop computational tools to facilitate automatic knowledge discovery from such large datasets becomes more urgent. One fundamental question is how best to compare neuron structures, for instance to organize and classify large collection of neurons. We aim to develop a flexible yet powerful framework to support comparison and classification of large collection of neuron structures efficiently. Specifically we propose to use a topological persistence-based feature vectorization framework. Existing methods to vectorize a neuron (i.e, convert a neuron to a feature vector so as to support efficient comparison and/or searching) typically rely on statistics or summaries of morphometric information, such as the average or maximum local torque angle or partition asymmetry. These simple summaries have limited power in encoding global tree structures. Based on the concept of topological persistence recently developed in the field of computational topology, we vectorize each neuron structure into a simple yet informative summary. In particular, each type of information of interest can be represented as a descriptor function defined on the neuron tree, which is then mapped to a simple persistence-signature. Our framework can encode both local and global tree structure, as well as other information of interest (electrophysiological or dynamical measures), by considering multiple descriptor functions on the neuron. The resulting persistence-based signature is potentially more informative than simple statistical summaries (such as average/mean/max) of morphometric quantities-Indeed, we show that using a certain descriptor function will give a persistence-based signature containing strictly more information than the classical Sholl analysis. At the same time, our framework retains the efficiency associated with treating neurons as points in a simple Euclidean feature space, which would be important for constructing efficient searching or indexing structures over them. We present preliminary experimental results to demonstrate the effectiveness of our persistence-based neuronal feature vectorization framework.

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms*
  • Animals
  • Electrophysiology
  • Neuroanatomy / methods*
  • Neurons / cytology*