Jacob Marcus Egebjerga, Maria Szomek, Katja Thaysen, Alice Dupont Juhla, Suzana Kozakijevic, Stephan Werner, Christoph Pratsch, Gerd Schneider, Sergey Kapishnikov, Axel Ekman, Richard Röttgerb, & Daniel Wüstner

During starvation in the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae vacuolar vesicles fuse and lipid droplets (LDs) can become internalized into the vacuole in an autophagic process named lipophagy. There is a lack of tools to quantitatively assess starvation-induced vacuole fusion and lipophagy in intact cells with high resolution and throughput. Here, we combine soft X-ray tomography (SXT) with fluorescence microscopy and use a deep-learning computational approach to visualize and quantify these processes in yeast. We focus on yeast homologs of mammalian NPC1 (NPC intracellular cholesterol transporter 1; Ncr1 in yeast) and NPC2 proteins, whose dysfunction leads to Niemann Pick type C (NPC) disease in humans. We developed a convolutional neural network (CNN) model which classifies fully fused versus partially fused vacuoles based on fluorescence images of stained cells. This CNN, named Deep Yeast Fusion Network (DYFNet), revealed that cells lacking Ncr1 (ncr1∆ cells) or Npc2 (npc2∆ cells) have a reduced capacity for vacuole fusion. Using a second CNN model, we implemented a pipeline named LipoSeg to perform automated instance segmentation of LDs and vacuoles from high-resolution reconstructions of X-ray tomograms. From that, we obtained 3D renderings of LDs inside and outside of the vacuole in a fully automated manner and additionally measured droplet volume, number, and distribution. We find that ncr1∆ and npc2∆ cells could ingest LDs into vacuoles normally but showed compromised degradation of LDs and accumulation of lipid vesicles inside vacuoles. Our new method is versatile and allows for analysis of vacuole fusion, droplet size and lipophagy in intact cells.

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