Detecting overlapping instances in microscopy images using extremal region trees

Carlos Arteta, Victor Lempitsky, J. Alison Noble, Andrew Zisserman

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    48 Citations (Scopus)


    In many microscopy applications the images may contain both regions of low and high cell densities corresponding to different tissues or colonies at different stages of growth. This poses a challenge to most previously developed automated cell detection and counting methods, which are designed to handle either the low-density scenario (through cell detection) or the high-density scenario (through density estimation or texture analysis).The objective of this work is to detect all the instances of an object of interest in microscopy images. The instances may be partially overlapping and clustered. To this end we introduce a tree-structured discrete graphical model that is used to select and label a set of non-overlapping regions in the image by a global optimization of a classification score. Each region is labeled with the number of instances it contains - for example regions can be selected that contain two or three object instances, by defining separate classes for tuples of objects in the detection process.We show that this formulation can be learned within the structured output SVM framework and that the inference in such a model can be accomplished using dynamic programming on a tree structured region graph. Furthermore, the learning only requires weak annotations - a dot on each instance. The candidate regions for the selection are obtained as extremal region of a surface computed from the microscopy image, and we show that the performance of the model can be improved by considering a proxy problem for learning the surface that allows better selection of the extremal regions. Furthermore, we consider a number of variations for the loss function used in the structured output learning.The model is applied and evaluated over six quite disparate data sets of images covering: fluorescence microscopy, weak-fluorescence molecular images, phase contrast microscopy and histopathology images, and is shown to exceed the state of the art in performance.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)3-16
    Number of pages14
    JournalMedical Image Analysis
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2016


    • Cell detection
    • Microscopy image analysis
    • Overlapping object detection


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