A multi-encoder variational autoencoder controls multiple transformational features in single-cell image analysis

Luke Ternes, Mark Dane, Sean Gross, Marilyne Labrie, Gordon Mills, Joe Gray, Laura Heiser, Young Hwan Chang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Image-based cell phenotyping relies on quantitative measurements as encoded representations of cells; however, defining suitable representations that capture complex imaging features is challenged by the lack of robust methods to segment cells, identify subcellular compartments, and extract relevant features. Variational autoencoder (VAE) approaches produce encouraging results by mapping an image to a representative descriptor, and outperform classical hand-crafted features for morphology, intensity, and texture at differentiating data. Although VAEs show promising results for capturing morphological and organizational features in tissue, single cell image analyses based on VAEs often fail to identify biologically informative features due to uninformative technical variation. Here we propose a multi-encoder VAE (ME-VAE) in single cell image analysis using transformed images as a self-supervised signal to extract transform-invariant biologically meaningful features, including emergent features not obvious from prior knowledge. We show that the proposed architecture improves analysis by making distinct cell populations more separable compared to traditional and recent extensions of VAE architectures and intensity measurements by enhancing phenotypic differences between cells and by improving correlations to other analytic modalities. Better feature extraction and image analysis methods enabled by the ME-VAE will advance our understanding of complex cell biology and enable discoveries previously hidden behind image complexity ultimately improving medical outcomes and drug discovery.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number255
JournalCommunications Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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