Rapid 3D phenotypic analysis of neurons and organoids using data-driven cell segmentation-free machine learning

PLoS Comput Biol. 2021 Feb 22;17(2):e1008630. doi: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1008630. eCollection 2021 Feb.


Phenotypic profiling of large three-dimensional microscopy data sets has not been widely adopted due to the challenges posed by cell segmentation and feature selection. The computational demands of automated processing further limit analysis of hard-to-segment images such as of neurons and organoids. Here we describe a comprehensive shallow-learning framework for automated quantitative phenotyping of three-dimensional (3D) image data using unsupervised data-driven voxel-based feature learning, which enables computationally facile classification, clustering and advanced data visualization. We demonstrate the analysis potential on complex 3D images by investigating the phenotypic alterations of: neurons in response to apoptosis-inducing treatments and morphogenesis for oncogene-expressing human mammary gland acinar organoids. Our novel implementation of image analysis algorithms called Phindr3D allowed rapid implementation of data-driven voxel-based feature learning into 3D high content analysis (HCA) operations and constitutes a major practical advance as the computed assignments represent the biology while preserving the heterogeneity of the underlying data. Phindr3D is provided as Matlab code and as a stand-alone program (https://github.com/DWALab/Phindr3D).

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't