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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2010 Feb 16;107(7):2944-9. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0912090107. Epub 2010 Feb 1.

Determining the distribution of probes between different subcellular locations through automated unmixing of subcellular patterns.

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  • 1Center for Bioimage Informatics and Department of Biomedical Engineering, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA 15213, USA.


Many proteins or other biological macromolecules are localized to more than one subcellular structure. The fraction of a protein in different cellular compartments is often measured by colocalization with organelle-specific fluorescent markers, requiring availability of fluorescent probes for each compartment and acquisition of images for each in conjunction with the macromolecule of interest. Alternatively, tailored algorithms allow finding particular regions in images and quantifying the amount of fluorescence they contain. Unfortunately, this approach requires extensive hand-tuning of algorithms and is often cell type-dependent. Here we describe a machine-learning approach for estimating the amount of fluorescent signal in different subcellular compartments without hand tuning, requiring only the acquisition of separate training images of markers for each compartment. In testing on images of cells stained with mixtures of probes for different organelles, we achieved a 93% correlation between estimated and expected amounts of probes in each compartment. We also demonstrated that the method can be used to quantify drug-dependent protein translocations. The method enables automated and unbiased determination of the distributions of protein across cellular compartments, and will significantly improve imaging-based high-throughput assays and facilitate proteome-scale localization efforts.

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