Semi-automatic stitching of filamentous structures in image stacks from serial-section electron tomography

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  • We present a software-assisted workflow for the alignment and matching of filamentous structures across a 3D stack of serial images. This is achieved by combining automatic methods, visual validation, and interactive correction. After an initial alignment, the user can continuously improve the result by interactively correcting landmarks or matches of filaments. Supported by a visual quality assessment of regions that have been already inspected, this allows a trade-off between quality and manual labor. The software tool was developed to investigate cell division by quantitative 3D analysis of microtubules (MTs) in both mitotic and meiotic spindles. For this, each spindle is cut into a series of semi-thick physical sections, of which electron tomograms are acquired. The serial tomograms are then stitched and non-rigidly aligned to allow tracing and connecting of MTs across tomogram boundaries. In practice, automatic stitching alone provides only an incomplete solution, because large physical distortions and a low signal-to-noise ratio often cause experimental difficulties. To derive 3D models of spindles despite the problems related to sample preparation and subsequent data collection, semi-automatic validation and correction is required to remove stitching mistakes. However, due to the large number of MTs in spindles (up to 30k) and their resulting dense spatial arrangement, a naive inspection of each MT is too time consuming. Furthermore, an interactive visualization of the full image stack is hampered by the size of the data (up to 100 GB). Here, we present a specialized, interactive, semi-automatic solution that considers all requirements for large-scale stitching of filamentous structures in serial-section image stacks. The key to our solution is a careful design of the visualization and interaction tools for each processing step to guarantee real-time response, and an optimized workflow that efficiently guides the user through datasets.
Author:Norbert LindowORCiD, Florian N. Brünig, Vincent J. DercksenORCiD, Gunar FabigORCiD, Robert KiewiszORCiD, Stefanie Redemann, Thomas Müller-Reichert, Steffen Prohaska, Daniel BaumORCiD
Document Type:Article
Parent Title (English):bioRxiv
Year of first publication:2020