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Open Access Highly Accessed Methodology article

Statistical and visual differentiation of subcellular imaging

Nicholas A Hamilton12*, Jack TH Wang1, Markus C Kerr1 and Rohan D Teasdale12

Author Affiliations

1 Institute for Molecular Bioscience, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia

2 ARC Centre of Excellence in Bioinformatics, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia

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BMC Bioinformatics 2009, 10:94  doi:10.1186/1471-2105-10-94

Published: 22 March 2009



Automated microscopy technologies have led to a rapid growth in imaging data on a scale comparable to that of the genomic revolution. High throughput screens are now being performed to determine the localisation of all of proteins in a proteome. Closer to the bench, large image sets of proteins in treated and untreated cells are being captured on a daily basis to determine function and interactions. Hence there is a need for new methodologies and protocols to test for difference in subcellular imaging both to remove bias and enable throughput. Here we introduce a novel method of statistical testing, and supporting software, to give a rigorous test for difference in imaging. We also outline the key questions and steps in establishing an analysis pipeline.


The methodology is tested on a high throughput set of images of 10 subcellular localisations, and it is shown that the localisations may be distinguished to a statistically significant degree with as few as 12 images of each. Further, subtle changes in a protein's distribution between nocodazole treated and control experiments are shown to be detectable. The effect of outlier images is also examined and it is shown that while the significance of the test may be reduced by outliers this may be compensated for by utilising more images. Finally, the test is compared to previous work and shown to be more sensitive in detecting difference. The methodology has been implemented within the iCluster system for visualising and clustering bio-image sets.


The aim here is to establish a methodology and protocol for testing for difference in subcellular imaging, and to provide tools to do so. While iCluster is applicable to moderate (<1000) size image sets, the statistical test is simple to implement and will readily be adapted to high throughput pipelines to provide more sensitive discrimination of difference.