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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2013 Mar 12;110(11):E1006-15. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1212277109. Epub 2012 Nov 26.

Statistical method for comparing the level of intracellular organization between cells.

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Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics, University of California, San Francisco, CA 94158, USA.


Systems level approaches to analyzing complex emergent behavior require quantitative characterization of alterations of behavior on both the microscale and macroscale. Here we consider the problem of cellular organization and describe a statistical methodology for quantitative comparison of the internal organization between different populations of similar physical objects, such as cells. This comparison is achieved with several steps of analysis. Starting with three-dimensional or two-dimensional images of cells, images are segmented to identify individual cells. Locations of internal points of interest, such as organelles or proteins, are recorded. To define the configuration of internal points in each cell, the individual cells are subjected to bounded Voronoi tessellation: subdividing the bounded volume or area of the cell into subvolumes determined by the locations of the internal points of interest. A statistical methodology is applied to yield a metric for similarity in degree of organization between populations. We applied this methodology to test whether centrioles play a role in global cellular organization, using mutants of the green alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii with known alterations in centriole number, structure, and position as a model system. Comparing mutant populations and wild-type populations revealed a dramatic difference in the degree of organization in the mutant strains. These computational and experimental results provide statistical support for prior observational studies and support the idea that centrioles play a role in generating or maintaining global cellular organization. Our results confirm that this method can be used to sensitively compare the extent and type of organization within cells.

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