Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group


First Advisor

Erika L. Holzbaur


Recent advances in fluorescent probes, microscopy, and imaging platforms have revolutionized biology and medicine, generating multi-dimensional image datasets at unprecedented scales. Traditional, low-throughput methods of image analysis are inadequate to handle the increased “volume, velocity, and variety” that characterize the realm of big data. Thus, biomedical imaging requires a new set of tools, which include advanced computer vision and machine learning algorithms. In this work, we develop computational image analysis solutions to biological questions at the level of single-molecules, cells, and tissues. At the molecular level, we dissect the regulation of dynein-dynactin transport initiation using in vitro reconstitution, single-particle tracking, super-resolution microscopy, live-cell imaging in neurons, and computational modeling. We show that at least two mechanisms regulate dynein transport initiation neurons: (1) cytoplasmic linker proteins, which are regulated by phosphorylation, increase the capture radius around the microtubule, thus reducing the time cargo spends in a diffusive search; and (2) a spatial gradient of tyrosinated alpha-tubulin enriched in the distal axon increases the affinity of dynein-dynactin for microtubules. Together, these mechanisms support a multi-modal recruitment model where interacting layers of regulation provide efficient, robust, and spatiotemporal control of transport initiation. At the cellular level, we develop and train deep residual convolutional neural networks on a large and diverse set of cellular microscopy images. Then, we apply networks trained for one task as deep feature extractors for unsupervised phenotypic profiling in a different task. We show that neural networks trained on one dataset encode robust image phenotypes that are sufficient to cluster subcellular structures by type and separate drug compounds by the mechanism of action, without additional training, supporting the strength and flexibility of this approach. Future applications include phenotypic profiling in image-based screens, where clustering genetic or drug treatments by image phenotypes may reveal novel relationships among genetic or pharmacologic pathways. Finally, at the tissue level, we apply deep learning pipelines in digital pathology to segment cardiac tissue and classify clinical heart failure using whole-slide images of cardiac histopathology. Together, these results demonstrate the power and promise of computational image analysis, computer vision, and deep learning in biological image analysis.

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