Frangakis, Achilleas S. Mean curvature motion facilitates the segmentation and surface visualization of electron tomograms. 2022. Journal of structural biology, Vol. 214, p. 107833
Three-dimensional visualization of biological samples is essential for understanding their architecture and function. However, it is often challenging due to the macromolecular crowdedness of the samples and low signal-to-noise ratio of the cryo-electron tomograms. Denoising and segmentation techniques address this challenge by increasing the signal-to-noise ratio and by simplifying the data in images. Here, mean curvature motion is presented as a method that can be applied to segmentation results, created either manually or automatically, to significantly improve both the visual quality and downstream computational handling. Mean curvature motion is a process based on nonlinear anisotropic diffusion that smooths along edges and causes high-curvature features, such as noise, to disappear. In combination with level-set methods for image erosion and dilation, the application of mean curvature motion to electron tomograms and segmentations removes sharp edges or spikes in the visualized surfaces, produces an improved surface quality, and improves overall visualization and interpretation of the three-dimensional images.