Supervised Machine Learning for Semi-Quantification of Extracellular DNA in Glomerulonephritis

Kim Maree O'Sullivan, Sarah Jayne Creed, Poh Yi Gan, Stephen R. Holdsworth

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Glomerular cell death is a pathological feature of myeloperoxidase anti neutrophil cytoplasmic antibody associated vasculitis (MPO-AAV). Extracellular deoxyribonucleic acid (ecDNA) is released during different forms of cell death including apoptosis, necrosis, necroptosis, neutrophil extracellular traps (NETs) and pyroptosis. Measurement of this cell death is time consuming with several different biomarkers required to identify the different biochemical forms of cell death. Measurement of ecDNA is generally conducted in serum and urine as a surrogate for renal damage, not in the actual target organ where the pathological injury occurs. The current difficulty in investigating ecDNA in the kidney is the lack of methods for formalin fixed paraffin embedded tissue (FFPE) both experimentally and in archived human kidney biopsies. This protocol provides a summary of the steps required to stain for ecDNA in FFPE tissue (both human and murine), quench autofluorescence and measure the ecDNA in the resulting images using a machine learning tool from the publicly available open source ImageJ plugin trainable Weka segmentation. Trainable Weka segmentation is applied to ecDNA within the glomeruli where the program learns to classify ecDNA. This classifier is applied to subsequent acquired kidney images, reducing the need for manual annotations of each individual image. The adaptability of the trainable Weka segmentation is demonstrated further in kidney tissue from experimental murine anti-MPO glomerulonephritis (GN), to identify NETs and ecMPO, common pathological contributors to anti-MPO GN. This method provides objective analysis of ecDNA in kidney tissue that demonstrates clearly the efficacy in which the trainable Weka segmentation program can distinguish ecDNA between healthy normal kidney tissue and diseased kidney tissue. This protocol can easily be adapted to identify ecDNA, NETs and ecMPO in other organs.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere61180
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Visualized Experiments
Issue number160
Publication statusPublished - 18 Jun 2020


  • supervised machine learning
  • glomerulonephritis
  • DNA
  • cell death
  • neutrophil extracellular traps

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