Extracting neuronal activity signals from microscopy recordings of contractile tissue using B-spline Explicit Active Surfaces (BEAS) cell tracking

Youcef Kazwiny, Joao Pedrosa, Zhiqing Zhang, Werend Boesmans, Jan D'hooge, Pieter Vanden Berghe*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Ca2+ imaging is a widely used microscopy technique to simultaneously study cellular activity in multiple cells. The desired information consists of cell-specific time series of pixel intensity values, in which the fluorescence intensity represents cellular activity. For static scenes, cellular signal extraction is straightforward, however multiple analysis challenges are present in recordings of contractile tissues, like those of the enteric nervous system (ENS). This layer of critical neurons, embedded within the muscle layers of the gut wall, shows optical overlap between neighboring neurons, intensity changes due to cell activity, and constant movement. These challenges reduce the applicability of classical segmentation techniques and traditional stack alignment and regions-of-interest (ROIs) selection workflows. Therefore, a signal extraction method capable of dealing with moving cells and is insensitive to large intensity changes in consecutive frames is needed. Here we propose a b-spline active contour method to delineate and track neuronal cell bodies based on local and global energy terms. We develop both a single as well as a double-contour approach. The latter takes advantage of the appearance of GCaMP expressing cells, and tracks the nucleus' boundaries together with the cytoplasmic contour, providing a stable delineation of neighboring, overlapping cells despite movement and intensity changes. The tracked contours can also serve as landmarks to relocate additional and manually-selected ROIs. This improves the total yield of efficacious cell tracking and allows signal extraction from other cell compartments like neuronal processes. Compared to manual delineation and other segmentation methods, the proposed method can track cells during large tissue deformations and high-intensity changes such as during neuronal firing events, while preserving the shape of the extracted Ca2+ signal. The analysis package represents a significant improvement to available Ca2+ imaging analysis workflows for ENS recordings and other systems where movement challenges traditional Ca2+ signal extraction workflows.

Original languageEnglish
Article number10937
Number of pages14
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 25 May 2021


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