PLoS One. 2022 Dec 29;17(12):e0276726. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0276726. eCollection 2022.
Identification of small objects in fluorescence microscopy is a non-trivial task burdened by parameter-sensitive algorithms, for which there is a clear need for an approach that adapts dynamically to changing imaging conditions. Here, we introduce an adaptive object detection method that, given a microscopy image and an image level label, uses kurtosis-based matching of the distribution of the image differential to express operator intent in terms of recall or precision. We show how a theoretical upper bound of the statistical distance in feature space enables application of belief theory to obtain statistical support for each detected object, capturing those aspects of the image that support the label, and to what extent. We validate our method on 2 datasets: distinguishing sub-diffraction limit caveolae and scaffold by stimulated emission depletion (STED) super-resolution microscopy; and detecting amyloid-β deposits in confocal microscopy retinal cross-sections of neuropathologically confirmed Alzheimer’s disease donor tissue. Our results are consistent with biological ground truth and with previous subcellular object classification results, and add insight into more nuanced class transition dynamics. We illustrate the novel application of belief theory to object detection in heterogeneous microscopy datasets and the quantification of conflict of evidence in a joint belief function. By applying our method successfully to diffraction-limited confocal imaging of tissue sections and super-resolution microscopy of subcellular structures, we demonstrate multi-scale applicability.