Deep learning-based molecular morphometrics for kidney biopsies

JCI Insight. 2021 Apr 8;6(7):e144779. doi: 10.1172/jci.insight.144779.


Morphologic examination of tissue biopsies is essential for histopathological diagnosis. However, accurate and scalable cellular quantification in human samples remains challenging. Here, we present a deep learning-based approach for antigen-specific cellular morphometrics in human kidney biopsies, which combines indirect immunofluorescence imaging with U-Net-based architectures for image-to-image translation and dual segmentation tasks, achieving human-level accuracy. In the kidney, podocyte loss represents a hallmark of glomerular injury and can be estimated in diagnostic biopsies. Thus, we profiled over 27,000 podocytes from 110 human samples, including patients with antineutrophil cytoplasmic antibody-associated glomerulonephritis (ANCA-GN), an immune-mediated disease with aggressive glomerular damage and irreversible loss of kidney function. We identified previously unknown morphometric signatures of podocyte depletion in patients with ANCA-GN, which allowed patient classification and, in combination with routine clinical tools, showed potential for risk stratification. Our approach enables robust and scalable molecular morphometric analysis of human tissues, yielding deeper biological insights into the human kidney pathophysiology.

Keywords: Bioinformatics; Molecular pathology; Nephrology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Neutrophil Cytoplasmic Antibody-Associated Vasculitis / pathology*
  • Biopsy
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Deep Learning*
  • Diagnosis, Computer-Assisted / methods*
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted / methods*
  • Kidney / pathology*
  • Pathology, Clinical / methods
  • Podocytes / cytology
  • Podocytes / pathology