PIXER: An automated particle-selection method based on segmentation using a deep neural network

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Abstract

Background: Cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) has become a widely used tool for determining the structures of proteins and macromolecular complexes. To acquire the input for single-particle cryo-EM reconstruction, researchers must select hundreds of thousands of particles from micrographs. As the signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) of micrographs is extremely low, the performance of automated particle-selection methods is still unable to meet research requirements. To free researchers from this laborious work and to acquire a large number of high-quality particles, we propose an automated particle-selection method (PIXER) based on the idea of segmentation using a deep neural network. Results: First, to accommodate low-SNR conditions, we convert micrographs into probability density maps using a segmentation network. These probability density maps indicate the likelihood that each pixel of a micrograph is part of a particle instead of just background noise. Particles selected from density maps have a more robust signal than do those directly selected from the original noisy micrographs. Second, at present, there is no segmentation-training dataset for cryo-EM. To enable our plan, we present an automated method to generate a training dataset for segmentation using real-world data. Third, we propose a grid-based, local-maximum method to locate the particles from the probability density maps. We tested our method on simulated and real-world experimental datasets and compared PIXER with the mainstream methods RELION, DeepEM and DeepPicker to demonstrate its performance. The results indicate that, as a fully automated method, PIXER can acquire results as good as the semi-automated methods RELION and DeepEM. Conclusion: To our knowledge, our work is the first to address the particle-selection problem using the segmentation network concept. As a fully automated particle-selection method, PIXER can free researchers from laborious particle-selection work. Based on the results of experiments, PIXER can acquire accurate results under low-SNR conditions within minutes.

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Zhang, J., Wang, Z., Chen, Y., Han, R., Liu, Z., Sun, F., & Zhang, F. (2019). PIXER: An automated particle-selection method based on segmentation using a deep neural network. BMC Bioinformatics, 20(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12859-019-2614-y

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