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Neurochem Res. 2011 Apr;36(4):583-93. doi: 10.1007/s11064-010-0390-1. Epub 2011 Jan 8.

Automated tracing of horizontal neuron processes during retinal development.

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  • 1Measurement Science and Systems Engineering Division, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, TN 37831, USA.


In the developing mammalian retina, horizontal neurons undergo a dramatic reorganization of their processes shortly after they migrate to their appropriate laminar position. This is an important process because it is now understood that the apical processes are important for establishing the regular mosaic of horizontal cells in the retina and proper reorganization during lamination is required for synaptogenesis with photoreceptors and bipolar neurons. However, this process is difficult to study because the analysis of horizontal neuron anatomy is labor intensive and time-consuming. In this paper, we present a computational method for automatically tracing the three-dimensional (3-D) dendritic structure of horizontal retinal neurons in two-photon laser scanning microscope (TPLSM) imagery. Our method is based on 3-D skeletonization and is thus able to preserve the complex structure of the dendritic arbor of these cells. We demonstrate the effectiveness of our approach by comparing our tracing results against two sets of semi-automated traces over a set of 10 horizontal neurons ranging in age from P1 to P5. We observe an average agreement level of 81% between our automated trace and the manual traces. This automated method will serve as an important starting point for further refinement and optimization.

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