A 2D/3D image analysis system to track fluorescently labeled structures in rod-shaped cells: application to measure spindle pole asymmetry during mitosis.
BACKGROUND: The yeast Schizosaccharomyces pombe is frequently used as a model for studying the cell cycle. The cells are rod-shaped and divide by medial fission. The process of cell division, or cytokinesis, is controlled by a network of signaling proteins called the Septation Initiation Network (SIN); SIN proteins associate with the SPBs during nuclear division (mitosis). Some SIN proteins associate with both SPBs early in mitosis, and then display strongly asymmetric signal intensity at the SPBs in late mitosis, just before cytokinesis. This asymmetry is thought to be important for correct regulation of SIN signaling, and coordination of cytokinesis and mitosis. In order to study the dynamics of organelles or large protein complexes such as the spindle pole body (SPB), which have been labeled with a fluorescent protein tag in living cells, a number of the image analysis problems must be solved; the cell outline must be detected automatically, and the position and signal intensity associated with the structures of interest within the cell must be determined. RESULTS: We present a new 2D and 3D image analysis system that permits versatile and robust analysis of motile, fluorescently labeled structures in rod-shaped cells. We have designed an image analysis system that we have implemented as a user-friendly software package allowing the fast and robust image-analysis of large numbers of rod-shaped cells. We have developed new robust algorithms, which we combined with existing methodologies to facilitate fast and accurate analysis. Our software permits the detection and segmentation of rod-shaped cells in either static or dynamic (i.e. time lapse) multi-channel images. It enables tracking of two structures (for example SPBs) in two different image channels. For 2D or 3D static images, the locations of the structures are identified, and then intensity values are extracted together with several quantitative parameters, such as length, width, cell orientation, background fluorescence and the distance between the structures of interest. Furthermore, two kinds of kymographs of the tracked structures can be established, one representing the migration with respect to their relative position, the other representing their individual trajectories inside the cell. This software package, called "RodCellJ", allowed us to analyze a large number of S. pombe cells to understand the rules that govern SIN protein asymmetry. CONCLUSIONS: "RodCell" is freely available to the community as a package of several ImageJ plugins to simultaneously analyze the behavior of a large number of rod-shaped cells in an extensive manner. The integration of different image-processing techniques in a single package, as well as the development of novel algorithms does not only allow to speed up the analysis with respect to the usage of existing tools, but also accounts for higher accuracy. Its utility was demonstrated on both 2D and 3D static and dynamic images to study the septation initiation network of the yeast Schizosaccharomyces pombe. More generally, it can be used in any kind of biological context where fluorescent-protein labeled structures need to be analyzed in rod-shaped cells. AVAILABILITY: RodCellJ is freely available under http://bigwww.epfl.ch/algorithms.html, (after acceptance of the publication).