Automating Aggregate Quantification in Caenorhabditis elegans

J Vis Exp. 2021 Oct 14:(176). doi: 10.3791/62997.


A rise in the prevalence of neurodegenerative protein conformational diseases (PCDs) has fostered a great interest in this subject over the years. This increased attention has called for the diversification and improvement of animal models capable of reproducing disease phenotypes observed in humans with PCDs. Though murine models have proven invaluable, they are expensive and are associated with laborious, low-throughput methods. Use of the Caenorhabditis elegans nematode model to study PCDs has been justified by its relative ease of maintenance, low cost, and rapid generation time, which allow for high-throughput applications. Additionally, high conservation between the C. elegans and human genomes makes this model an invaluable discovery tool. Nematodes that express fluorescently tagged tissue-specific polyglutamine (polyQ) tracts exhibit age- and polyQ length-dependent aggregation characterized by fluorescent foci. Such reporters are often employed as proxies to monitor changes in proteostasis across tissues. Manual aggregate quantification is time-consuming, limiting experimental throughput. Furthermore, manual foci quantification can introduce bias, as aggregate identification can be highly subjective. Herein, a protocol consisting of worm culturing, image acquisition, and data processing was standardized to support high-throughput aggregate quantification using C. elegans that express intestine-specific polyQ. By implementing a C. elegans-based image processing pipeline using CellProfiler, an image analysis software, this method has been optimized to separate and identify individual worms and enumerate their respective aggregates. Though the concept of automation is not entirely unique, the need to standardize such procedures for reproducibility, elimination of bias from manual counting, and increase throughput is high. It is anticipated that these methods can drastically simplify the screening process of large bacterial, genomic, or drug libraries using the C. elegans model.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins* / metabolism
  • Caenorhabditis elegans* / genetics
  • Caenorhabditis elegans* / metabolism
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted / methods
  • Mice
  • Proteostasis
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Software


  • Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins