A pulse coupled neural network segmentation algorithm for reflectance confocal images of epithelial tissue.
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Automatic segmentation of nuclei in reflectance confocal microscopy images is critical for visualization and rapid quantification of nuclear-to-cytoplasmic ratio, a useful indicator of epithelial precancer. Reflectance confocal microscopy can provide three-dimensional imaging of epithelial tissue in vivo with sub-cellular resolution. Changes in nuclear density or nuclear-to-cytoplasmic ratio as a function of depth obtained from confocal images can be used to determine the presence or stage of epithelial cancers. However, low nuclear to background contrast, low resolution at greater imaging depths, and significant variation in reflectance signal of nuclei complicate segmentation required for quantification of nuclear-to-cytoplasmic ratio. Here, we present an automated segmentation method to segment nuclei in reflectance confocal images using a pulse coupled neural network algorithm, specifically a spiking cortical model, and an artificial neural network classifier. The segmentation algorithm was applied to an image model of nuclei with varying nuclear to background contrast. Greater than 90% of simulated nuclei were detected for contrast of 2.0 or greater. Confocal images of porcine and human oral mucosa were used to evaluate application to epithelial tissue. Segmentation accuracy was assessed using manual segmentation of nuclei as the gold standard.