OPTIMAL: An OPTimised Imaging Mass cytometry AnaLysis framework for benchmarking segmentation and data exploration.
Analysis of Imaging Mass Cytometry (IMC) data and other low-resolution multiplexed tissue imaging technologies is often confounded by poor single cell segmentation and sub-optimal approaches for data visualisation and exploration. This can lead to inaccurate identification of cell phenotypes, states or spatial relationships compared to reference data from single cell suspension technologies. To this end we have developed the "OPTIMAL" framework to benchmark any approaches for cell segmentation, parameter transformation, batch effect correction, data visualisation/clustering and spatial neighbourhood analysis. Using a panel of 27 metal-tagged antibodies recognising well characterised phenotypic and functional markers to stain the same FFPE human tonsil sample Tissue Microarray (TMA) over 12 temporally distinct batches we tested several cell segmentation models, a range of different arcsinh cofactor parameter transformation values, five different dimensionality reduction algorithms and two clustering methods. Finally we assessed the optimal approach for performing neighbourhood analysis. We found that single cell segmentation was improved by the use of an Ilastik-derived probability map but that issues with poor segmentation were only really evident after clustering and cell type/state identification and not always evident when using "classical" bi-variate data display techniques. The optimal arcsinh cofactor for parameter transformation was 1 as it maximised the statistical separation between negative and positive signal distributions and a simple Z-score normalisation step after arcsinh transformation eliminated batch effects. Of the five different dimensionality reduction approaches tested, PacMap gave the best data structure with FLOWSOM clustering out-performing Phenograph in terms of cell type identification. We also found that neighbourhood analysis was influenced by the method used for finding neighbouring cells with a "disc" pixel expansion outperforming a "bounding box" approach combined with the need for filtering objects based on size and image-edge location. Importantly OPTIMAL can be used to assess and integrate with any existing approach to IMC data analysis and, as it creates. FCS files from the segmentation output, allows for single cell exploration to be conducted using a wide variety of accessible software and algorithms familiar to conventional flow cytometrists.
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Cytometry. Part A : the journal of the International Society for Analytical Cytology