Estimating microtubule distributions from 2D immunofluorescence microscopy images reveals differences among human cultured cell lines.
Microtubules are filamentous structures that are involved in several important cellular processes, including cell division, cellular structure and mechanics, and intracellular transportation. Little is known about potential differences in microtubule distributions within and across cell lines. Here we describe a method to estimate information pertaining to 3D microtubule distributions from 2D fluorescence images. Our method allows for quantitative comparisons of microtubule distribution parameters (number of microtubules, mean length) between different cell lines. Among eleven cell lines compared, some showed differences that could be accounted for by differences in the total amount of tubulin per cell while others showed statistically significant differences in the balance between number and length of microtubules. We also observed that some cell lines that visually appear different in their microtubule distributions are quite similar when the model parameters are considered. The method is expected to be generally useful for comparing microtubule distributions between cell lines and for a given cell line after various perturbations. The results are also expected to enable analysis of the differences in gene expression underlying the observed differences in microtubule distributions among cell types.