Quantitative assessment of cancer cell morphology and motility using telecentric digital holographic microscopy and machine learning

The noninvasive, fast acquisition of quantitative phase maps using digital holographic microscopy (DHM) allows tracking of rapid cellular motility on transparent substrates. On two-dimensional surfaces in vitro, MDA-MB-231 cancer cells assume several morphologies related to the mode of migration and substrate stiffness, relevant to mechanisms of cancer invasiveness in vivo. The quantitative phase information from DHM may accurately classify adhesive cancer cell subpopulations with clinical relevance. To test this, cells from the invasive breast cancer MDA-MB-231 cell line were cultured on glass, tissue-culture treated polystyrene, and collagen hydrogels, and imaged with DHM followed by epifluorescence microscopy after staining F-actin and nuclei. Trends in cell phase parameters were tracked on the different substrates, during cell division, and during matrix adhesion, relating them to F-actin features. Support vector machine learning algorithms were trained and tested using parameters from holographic phase reconstructions and cell geometric features from conventional phase images, and used to distinguish between elongated and rounded cell morphologies. DHM was able to distinguish between elongated and rounded morphologies of MDA-MB-231 cells with 94% accuracy, compared to 83% accuracy using cell geometric features from conventional brightfield microscopy. This finding indicates the potential of DHM to detect and monitor cancer cell morphologies relevant to cell cycle phase status, substrate adhesion, and motility.
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