High-resolution cell outline segmentation and tracking from phase-contrast microscopy images

Research output: Contribution to journalResearch articleContributedpeer-review


  • M. E. Ambühl - , Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL) (Author)
  • C. Brepsant - , Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL) (Author)
  • J. J. Meister - , Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL) (Author)
  • A. B. Verkhovsky - , Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL) (Author)
  • I. F. Sbalzarini - , ETH Zurich (Author)


Accurate extraction of cell outlines from microscopy images is essential for analysing the dynamics of migrating cells. Phase-contrast microscopy is one of the most common and convenient imaging modalities for observing cell motility because it does not require exogenous labelling and uses only moderate light levels with generally negligible phototoxicity effects. Automatic extraction and tracking of high-resolution cell outlines from phase-contrast images, however, is difficult due to complex and non-uniform edge intensity. We present a novel image-processing method based on refined level-set segmentation for accurate extraction of cell outlines from high-resolution phase-contrast images. The algorithm is validated on synthetic images of defined noise levels and applied to real image sequences of polarizing and persistently migrating keratocyte cells. We demonstrate that the algorithm is able to reliably reveal fine features in the cell edge dynamics.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)161-170
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Microscopy
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2012
Externally publishedYes

External IDs

PubMed 21999192
ORCID /0000-0003-4414-4340/work/159608302



  • Cell motility, Cell outline tracking, Cell polarization, Cell shape, Edge detection, Level-set segmentation, Near-optimal thresholding, Phase-contrast microscopy

Library keywords