Investigating Optimal Time Step Intervals of Imaging for Data Quality through a Novel Fully-Automated Cell Tracking Approach

J Imaging. 2020 Jul 7;6(7):66. doi: 10.3390/jimaging6070066.


Computer-based fully-automated cell tracking is becoming increasingly important in cell biology, since it provides unrivalled capacity and efficiency for the analysis of large datasets. However, automatic cell tracking's lack of superior pattern recognition and error-handling capability compared to its human manual tracking counterpart inspired decades-long research. Enormous efforts have been made in developing advanced cell tracking packages and software algorithms. Typical research in this field focuses on dealing with existing data and finding a best solution. Here, we investigate a novel approach where the quality of data acquisition could help improve the accuracy of cell tracking algorithms and vice-versa. Generally speaking, when tracking cell movement, the more frequent the images are taken, the more accurate cells are tracked and, yet, issues such as damage to cells due to light intensity, overheating in equipment, as well as the size of the data prevent a constant data streaming. Hence, a trade-off between the frequency at which data images are collected and the accuracy of the cell tracking algorithms needs to be studied. In this paper, we look at the effects of different choices of the time step interval (i.e., the frequency of data acquisition) within the microscope to our existing cell tracking algorithms. We generate several experimental data sets where the true outcomes are known (i.e., the direction of cell migration) by either using an effective chemoattractant or employing no-chemoattractant. We specify a relatively short time step interval (i.e., 30 s) between pictures that are taken at the data generational stage, so that, later on, we may choose some portion of the images to produce datasets with different time step intervals, such as 1 min, 2 min, and so on. We evaluate the accuracy of our cell tracking algorithms to illustrate the effects of these different time step intervals. We establish that there exist certain relationships between the tracking accuracy and the time step interval associated with experimental microscope data acquisition. We perform fully-automatic adaptive cell tracking on multiple datasets, to identify optimal time step intervals for data acquisition, while at the same time demonstrating the performance of the computer cell tracking algorithms.

Keywords: chemotaxis; directed cell migration; fully-automated cell tracking; microscope data acquisition; optimal time step intervals; particle tracking; phase-contrast microscopy; segmentation; tracking accuracy.