In Situ Classification of Cell Types in Human Kidney Tissue Using 3D Nuclear Staining

Cytometry A. 2021 Jul;99(7):707-721. doi: 10.1002/cyto.a.24274. Epub 2020 Dec 13.


To understand the physiology and pathology of disease, capturing the heterogeneity of cell types within their tissue environment is fundamental. In such an endeavor, the human kidney presents a formidable challenge because its complex organizational structure is tightly linked to key physiological functions. Advances in imaging-based cell classification may be limited by the need to incorporate specific markers that can link classification to function. Multiplex imaging can mitigate these limitations, but requires cumulative incorporation of markers, which may lead to tissue exhaustion. Furthermore, the application of such strategies in large scale 3-dimensional (3D) imaging is challenging. Here, we propose that 3D nuclear signatures from a DNA stain, DAPI, which could be incorporated in most experimental imaging, can be used for classifying cells in intact human kidney tissue. We developed an unsupervised approach that uses 3D tissue cytometry to generate a large training dataset of nuclei images (NephNuc), where each nucleus is associated with a cell type label. We then devised various supervised machine learning approaches for kidney cell classification and demonstrated that a deep learning approach outperforms classical machine learning or shape-based classifiers. Specifically, a custom 3D convolutional neural network (NephNet3D) trained on nuclei image volumes achieved a balanced accuracy of 80.26%. Importantly, integrating NephNet3D classification with tissue cytometry allowed in situ visualization of cell type classifications in kidney tissue. In conclusion, we present a tissue cytometry and deep learning approach for in situ classification of cell types in human kidney tissue using only a DNA stain. This methodology is generalizable to other tissues and has potential advantages on tissue economy and non-exhaustive classification of different cell types.

Keywords: deep learning; human kidney; in situ classification; tissue cytometry.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Kidney
  • Machine Learning*
  • Neural Networks, Computer*
  • Staining and Labeling
  • Supervised Machine Learning