Statistical spatial analysis for cryo-electron tomography


Martinez-Sanchez A, Baumeister W, Lučić V


Computer Methods and Programs in Biomedicine


Comput Methods Programs Biomed. 2022 Feb 15;218:106693. 


Cryo-electron tomography (cryo-ET) is uniquely suited to precisely localize macromolecular complexes in situ, that is in a close-to-native state within their cellular compartments, in three-dimensions at high resolution. Point pattern analysis (PPA) allows quantitative characterization of the spatial organization of particles. However, current implementations of PPA functions are not suitable for applications to cryo-ET data because they do not consider the real, typically irregular 3D shape of cellular compartments and molecular complexes. Here, we designed and implemented first and the second-order, uni- and bivariate PPA functions in a Python package for statistical spatial analysis of particles located in three dimensional regions of arbitrary shape, such as those encountered in cellular cryo-ET imaging (PyOrg). To validate the implemented functions, we applied them to specially designed synthetic datasets. This allowed us to find the algorithmic solutions that provide the best accuracy and computational performance, and to evaluate the precision of the implemented functions. Applications to experimental data showed that despite the higher computational demand, the use of the second-order functions is advantageous to the first-order ones, because they allow characterization of the particle organization and statistical inference over a range of distance scales, as well as the comparative analysis between experimental groups comprising multiple tomograms. Altogether, PyOrg is a versatile, precise, and efficient open-source software for reliable quantitative characterization of macromolecular organization within cellular compartments imaged in situ by cryo-ET, as well as to other 3D imaging systems where real-size particles are located within regions possessing complex geometry.


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