Quantifying Yeast Microtubules and Spindles Using the Toolkit for Automated Microtubule Tracking (TAMiT)

Biomolecules. 2023 Jun 4;13(6):939. doi: 10.3390/biom13060939.


Fluorescently labeled proteins absorb and emit light, appearing as Gaussian spots in fluorescence imaging. When fluorescent tags are added to cytoskeletal polymers such as microtubules, a line of fluorescence and even non-linear structures results. While much progress has been made in techniques for imaging and microscopy, image analysis is less well-developed. Current analysis of fluorescent microtubules uses either manual tools, such as kymographs, or automated software. As a result, our ability to quantify microtubule dynamics and organization from light microscopy remains limited. Despite the development of automated microtubule analysis tools for in vitro studies, analysis of images from cells often depends heavily on manual analysis. One of the main reasons for this disparity is the low signal-to-noise ratio in cells, where background fluorescence is typically higher than in reconstituted systems. Here, we present the Toolkit for Automated Microtubule Tracking (TAMiT), which automatically detects, optimizes, and tracks fluorescent microtubules in living yeast cells with sub-pixel accuracy. Using basic information about microtubule organization, TAMiT detects linear and curved polymers using a geometrical scanning technique. Images are fit via an optimization problem for the microtubule image parameters that are solved using non-linear least squares in Matlab. We benchmark our software using simulated images and show that it reliably detects microtubules, even at low signal-to-noise ratios. Then, we use TAMiT to measure monopolar spindle microtubule bundle number, length, and lifetime in a large dataset that includes several S. pombe mutants that affect microtubule dynamics and bundling. The results from the automated analysis are consistent with previous work and suggest a direct role for CLASP/Cls1 in bundling spindle microtubules. We also illustrate automated tracking of single curved astral microtubules in S. cerevisiae, with measurement of dynamic instability parameters. The results obtained with our fully-automated software are similar to results using hand-tracked measurements. Therefore, TAMiT can facilitate automated analysis of spindle and microtubule dynamics in yeast cells.

Keywords: curve optimization; fluorescent microscopy; image analysis; microtubule tracking.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Microscopy, Fluorescence / methods
  • Microtubules* / metabolism
  • Saccharomyces cerevisiae*
  • Software