Evaluating the utility of brightfield image data for mechanism of action prediction

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Published: 2023-07-02

Formatted citation

Harrison PJ, Gupta A, Rietdijk J, Wieslander H, Carreras-Puigvert J, Georgiev P, Wählby C, Spjuth O, Sintorn IM.. Evaluating the utility of brightfield image data for mechanism of action prediction.
PLOS Computational Biology. 19, 7, e1011323. (2023). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1011323


Fluorescence staining techniques, such as Cell Painting, together with fluorescence microscopy have proven invaluable for visualizing and quantifying the effects that drugs and other perturbations have on cultured cells. However, fluorescence microscopy is expensive, time-consuming, labor-intensive, and the stains applied can be cytotoxic, interfering with the activity under study. The simplest form of microscopy, brightfield microscopy, lacks these downsides, but the images produced have low contrast and the cellular compartments are difficult to discern. Nevertheless, by harnessing deep learning, these brightfield images may still be sufficient for various predictive purposes. In this study, we compared the predictive performance of models trained on fluorescence images to those trained on brightfield images for predicting the mechanism of action (MoA) of different drugs. We also extracted CellProfiler features from the fluorescence images and used them to benchmark the performance. Overall, we found comparable and correlated predictive performance for the two imaging modalities. This is promising for future studies of MoAs in time-lapse experiments for which using fluorescence images is problematic. Explorations based on explainable AI techniques also provided valuable insights regarding compounds that were better predicted by one modality over the other.