In PLoS computational biology
Complex dendritic trees are a distinctive feature of neurons. Alterations to dendritic morphology are associated with developmental, behavioral and neurodegenerative changes. The highly-arborized PVD neuron of C. elegans serves as a model to study dendritic patterning; however, quantitative, objective and automated analyses of PVD morphology are missing. Here, we present a method for neuronal feature extraction, based on deep-learning and fitting algorithms. The extracted neuronal architecture is represented by a database of structural elements for abstracted analysis. We obtain excellent automatic tracing of PVD trees and uncover that dendritic junctions are unevenly distributed. Surprisingly, these junctions are three-way-symmetrical on average, while dendritic processes are arranged orthogonally. We quantify the effect of mutation in git-1, a regulator of dendritic spine formation, on PVD morphology and discover a localized reduction in junctions. Our findings shed new light on PVD architecture, demonstrating the effectiveness of our objective analyses of dendritic morphology and suggest molecular control mechanisms.
Yuval Omer, Iosilevskii Yael, Meledin Anna, Podbilewicz Benjamin, Shemesh Tom