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Front Cell Neurosci. 2013 Jan 30;7:3. doi: 10.3389/fncel.2013.00003. eCollection 2013.

Quantitating the subtleties of microglial morphology with fractal analysis.

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Centre for Research in Complex Systems, School of Community Health, Charles Sturt University Albury, NSW, Australia.


It is well established that microglial form and function are inextricably linked. In recent years, the traditional view that microglial form ranges between "ramified resting" and "activated amoeboid" has been emphasized through advancing imaging techniques that point to microglial form being highly dynamic even within the currently accepted morphological categories. Moreover, microglia adopt meaningful intermediate forms between categories, with considerable crossover in function and varying morphologies as they cycle, migrate, wave, phagocytose, and extend and retract fine and gross processes. From a quantitative perspective, it is problematic to measure such variability using traditional methods, but one way of quantitating such detail is through fractal analysis. The techniques of fractal analysis have been used for quantitating microglial morphology, to categorize gross differences but also to differentiate subtle differences (e.g., amongst ramified cells). Multifractal analysis in particular is one technique of fractal analysis that may be useful for identifying intermediate forms. Here we review current trends and methods of fractal analysis, focusing on box counting analysis, including lacunarity and multifractal analysis, as applied to microglial morphology.


box counting; cell shape; fractals; image interpretation: computer-assisted; lacunarity; microglia; models: biological; multifractal analysis

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