Machine learning-based morphological quantification of replicative senescence in human fibroblasts

Geroscience. 2024 Apr;46(2):2425-2439. doi: 10.1007/s11357-023-01007-w. Epub 2023 Nov 21.


Although aging has been investigated extensively at the organismal and cellular level, the morphological changes that individual cells undergo along their replicative lifespan have not been precisely quantified. Here, we present the results of a readily accessible machine learning-based pipeline that uses standard fluorescence microscope and open access software to quantify the minute morphological changes that human fibroblasts undergo during their replicative lifespan in culture. Applying this pipeline in a widely used fibroblast cell line (IMR-90), we find that advanced replicative age robustly increases (+28-79%) cell surface area, perimeter, number and total length of pseudopodia, and nuclear surface area, while decreasing cell circularity, with phenotypic changes largely occurring as replicative senescence is reached. These senescence-related morphological changes are recapitulated, albeit to a variable extent, in primary dermal fibroblasts derived from human donors of different ancestry, age, and sex groups. By performing integrative analysis of single-cell morphology, our pipeline further classifies senescent-like cells and quantifies how their numbers increase with replicative senescence in IMR-90 cells and in dermal fibroblasts across all tested donors. These findings provide quantitative insights into replicative senescence, while demonstrating applicability of a readily accessible computational pipeline for high-throughput cell phenotyping in aging research.

Keywords: Cell morphology; Fibroblasts; Machine learning; Microscopy; Replicative senescence.

MeSH terms

  • Aging*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Cellular Senescence*
  • Fibroblasts
  • Humans