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Open Access Methodology article

A novel cell nuclei segmentation method for 3D C. elegans embryonic time-lapse images

Long Chen1*, Leanne Lai Hang Chan1, Zhongying Zhao2 and Hong Yan1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Electronic Engineering, City University of Hong Kong, Kowloon, Hong Kong

2 Department of Biology, Hong Kong Baptist University, Kowloon, Hong Kong

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BMC Bioinformatics 2013, 14:328  doi:10.1186/1471-2105-14-328

Published: 19 November 2013

Abstract

Background

Recently a series of algorithms have been developed, providing automatic tools for tracing C. elegans embryonic cell lineage. In these algorithms, 3D images collected from a confocal laser scanning microscope were processed, the output of which is cell lineage with cell division history and cell positions with time. However, current image segmentation algorithms suffer from high error rate especially after 350-cell stage because of low signal-noise ratio as well as low resolution along the Z axis (0.5-1 microns). As a result, correction of the errors becomes a huge burden. These errors are mainly produced in the segmentation of nuclei. Thus development of a more accurate image segmentation algorithm will alleviate the hurdle for automated analysis of cell lineage.

Results

This paper presents a new type of nuclei segmentation method embracing an bi-directional prediction procedure, which can greatly reduce the number of false negative errors, the most common errors in the previous segmentation. In this method, we first use a 2D region growing technique together with the level-set method to generate accurate 2D slices. Then a modified gradient method instead of the existing 3D local maximum method is adopted to detect all the 2D slices located in the nuclei center, each of which corresponds to one nucleus. Finally, the bi-directional pred- iction method based on the images before and after the current time point is introduced into the system to predict the nuclei in low quality parts of the images. The result of our method shows a notable improvement in the accuracy rate. For each nucleus, its precise location, volume and gene expression value (gray value) is also obtained, all of which will be useful in further downstream analyses.

Conclusions

The result of this research demonstrates the advantages of the bi-directional prediction method in the nuclei segmentation over that of StarryNite/MatLab StarryNite. Several other modifications adopted in our nuclei segmentation system are also discussed.