Geometric deep learning reveals the spatiotemporal fingerprint of microscopic motion published in Nature Machine Intelligence

Input graph structure including a redundant number of edges. (Image by J. Pineda.)
Geometric deep learning reveals the spatiotemporal fingerprint of microscopic motion
Jesús Pineda, Benjamin Midtvedt, Harshith Bachimanchi, Sergio Noé, Daniel Midtvedt, Giovanni Volpe, Carlo Manzo
Nature Machine Intelligence (2023)
arXiv: 2202.06355
doi: 10.1038/s42256-022-00595-0

The characterization of dynamical processes in living systems provides important clues for their mechanistic interpretation and link to biological functions. Thanks to recent advances in microscopy techniques, it is now possible to routinely record the motion of cells, organelles, and individual molecules at multiple spatiotemporal scales in physiological conditions. However, the automated analysis of dynamics occurring in crowded and complex environments still lags behind the acquisition of microscopic image sequences. Here, we present a framework based on geometric deep learning that achieves the accurate estimation of dynamical properties in various biologically-relevant scenarios. This deep-learning approach relies on a graph neural network enhanced by attention-based components. By processing object features with geometric priors, the network is capable of performing multiple tasks, from linking coordinates into trajectories to inferring local and global dynamic properties. We demonstrate the flexibility and reliability of this approach by applying it to real and simulated data corresponding to a broad range of biological experiments.

Faster and more accurate geometrical-optics optical force calculation using neural networks published in ACS Photonics

Focused rays scattered by an ellipsoidal particles (left). Optical torque along y calculated in the x-y plane using ray scattering with a grid of 1600 rays (up, right) and using a trained neural network (down, right). (Image by the Authors of the manuscript.)
Faster and more accurate geometrical-optics optical force calculation using neural networks
David Bronte Ciriza, Alessandro Magazzù, Agnese Callegari, Gunther Barbosa, Antonio A. R. Neves, Maria A. Iatì, Giovanni Volpe, Onofrio M. Maragò
ACS Photonics, 2022
doi: 10.1021/acsphotonics.2c01565
arXiv: 2209.04032

Optical forces are often calculated by discretizing the trapping light beam into a set of rays and using geometrical optics to compute the exchange of momentum. However, the number of rays sets a trade-off between calculation speed and accuracy. Here, we show that using neural networks permits one to overcome this limitation, obtaining not only faster but also more accurate simulations. We demonstrate this using an optically trapped spherical particle for which we obtain an analytical solution to use as ground truth. Then, we take advantage of the acceleration provided by neural networks to study the dynamics of an ellipsoidal particle in a double trap, which would be computationally impossible otherwise.

Corneal endothelium assessment in specular microscopy images with Fuchs’ dystrophy via deep regression of signed distance maps published in Biomedical Optics Express

Example of final segmentation with the UNet-dm of the specular microscopy image of a severe case of cornea guttata. (Image by the Authors of the manuscript.)
Corneal endothelium assessment in specular microscopy images with Fuchs’ dystrophy via deep regression of signed distance maps
Juan S. Sierra, Jesus Pineda, Daniela Rueda, Alejandro Tello, Angelica M. Prada, Virgilio Galvis, Giovanni Volpe, Maria S. Millan, Lenny A. Romero, Andres G. Marrugo
Biomedical Optics Express 14, 335-351 (2023)
doi: 10.1364/BOE.477495
arXiv: 2210.07102

Specular microscopy assessment of the human corneal endothelium (CE) in Fuchs’ dystrophy is challenging due to the presence of dark image regions called guttae. This paper proposes a UNet-based segmentation approach that requires minimal post-processing and achieves reliable CE morphometric assessment and guttae identification across all degrees of Fuchs’ dystrophy. We cast the segmentation problem as a regression task of the cell and gutta signed distance maps instead of a pixel-level classification task as typically done with UNets. Compared to the conventional UNet classification approach, the distance-map regression approach converges faster in clinically relevant parameters. It also produces morphometric parameters that agree with the manually-segmented ground-truth data, namely the average cell density difference of -41.9 cells/mm2 (95% confidence interval (CI) [-306.2, 222.5]) and the average difference of mean cell area of 14.8 um2 (95% CI [-41.9, 71.5]). These results suggest a promising alternative for CE assessment.

Active matter in space published in npj Microgravity

Effect of gravity on matter: Sedimentation and creaming. Fv and Fg represent the viscous force and gravitational force, respectively. (Image by Authors.)
Active matter in space
Giorgio Volpe, Clemens Bechinger, Frank Cichos, Ramin Golestanian, Hartmut Löwen, Matthias Sperl and Giovanni Volpe
npj Microgravity, 8, 54 (2022)
doi: 10.1038/s41526-022-00230-7

In the last 20 years, active matter has been a highly dynamic field of research, bridging fundamental aspects of non-equilibrium thermodynamics with applications to biology, robotics, and nano-medicine. Active matter systems are composed of units that can harvest and harness energy and information from their environment to generate complex collective behaviours and forms of self-organisation. On Earth, gravity-driven phenomena (such as sedimentation and convection) often dominate or conceal the emergence of these dynamics, especially for soft active matter systems where typical interactions are of the order of the thermal energy. In this review, we explore the ongoing and future efforts to study active matter in space, where low-gravity and microgravity conditions can lift some of these limitations. We envision that these studies will help unify our understanding of active matter systems and, more generally, of far-from-equilibrium physics both on Earth and in space. Furthermore, they will also provide guidance on how to use, process and manufacture active materials for space exploration and colonisation.

Tunable critical Casimir forces counteract Casimir-Lifshitz attraction published in Nature Physics

Gold flake suspended over a functionalized gold-coated substrate. (Image by F. Schmidt.)
Tunable critical Casimir forces counteract Casimir-Lifshitz attraction
Falko Schmidt, Agnese Callegari, Abdallah Daddi-Moussa-Ider, Battulga Munkhbat, Ruggero Verre, Timur Shegai, Mikael Käll, Hartmut Löwen, Andrea Gambassi and Giovanni Volpe
Nature Physics (2022)
arXiv: 2202.10926
doi: 10.1038/s41567-022-01795-6

Casimir forces in quantum electrodynamics emerge between microscopic metallic objects because of the confinement of the vacuum electromagnetic fluctuations occurring even at zero temperature. Their generalization at finite temperature and in material media are referred to as Casimir-Lifshitz forces. These forces are typically attractive, leading to the widespread problem of stiction between the metallic parts of micro- and nanodevices. Recently, repulsive Casimir forces have been experimentally realized but their reliance on specialized materials prevents their dynamic control and thus limits their further applicability. Here, we experimentally demonstrate that repulsive critical Casimir forces, which emerge in a critical binary liquid mixture upon approaching the critical temperature, can be used to actively control microscopic and nanoscopic objects with nanometer precision. We demonstrate this by using critical Casimir forces to prevent the stiction caused by the Casimir-Lifshitz forces. We study a microscopic gold flake above a flat gold-coated substrate immersed in a critical mixture. Far from the critical temperature, stiction occurs because of dominant Casimir-Lifshitz forces. Upon approaching the critical temperature, however, we observe the emergence of repulsive critical Casimir forces that are sufficiently strong to counteract stiction. This experimental demonstration can accelerate the development of micro- and nanodevices by preventing stiction as well as providing active control and precise tunability of the forces acting between their constituent parts.

Microplankton life histories revealed by holographic microscopy and deep learning published in eLife

Tracking of microplankton by holographic optical microscopy and deep learning. (Image by H. Bachimanchi.)
Microplankton life histories revealed by holographic microscopy and deep learning
Harshith Bachimanchi, Benjamin Midtvedt, Daniel Midtvedt, Erik Selander, and Giovanni Volpe
eLife 11, e79760 (2022)
arXiv: 2202.09046
doi: 10.7554/eLife.79760

The marine microbial food web plays a central role in the global carbon cycle. Our mechanistic understanding of the ocean, however, is biased towards its larger constituents, while rates and biomass fluxes in the microbial food web are mainly inferred from indirect measurements and ensemble averages. Yet, resolution at the level of the individual microplankton is required to advance our understanding of the oceanic food web. Here, we demonstrate that, by combining holographic microscopy with deep learning, we can follow microplanktons throughout their lifespan, continuously measuring their three dimensional position and dry mass. The deep learning algorithms circumvent the computationally intensive processing of holographic data and allow rapid measurements over extended time periods. This permits us to reliably estimate growth rates, both in terms of dry mass increase and cell divisions, as well as to measure trophic interactions between species such as predation events. The individual resolution provides information about selectivity, individual feeding rates and handling times for individual microplanktons. This method is particularly useful to explore the flux of carbon through micro-zooplankton, the most important and least known group of primary consumers in the global oceans. We exemplify this by detailed descriptions of micro-zooplankton feeding events, cell divisions, and long term monitoring of single cells from division to division.

Sex differences in multilayer functional network topology over the course of aging in 37543 UK Biobank participants accepted on Network Neuroscience

Example of the 21 resting-state networks used as nodes and their positive (red) and negative connections (blue) for one of 140 the subjects included in the analyses. (Image by the Authors of the manuscript.)
Sex differences in multilayer functional network topology over the course of aging in 37543 UK Biobank participants
Mite Mijalkov, Dániel Veréb, Oveis Jamialahmadi, Anna Canal-Garcia, Emiliano Gómez-Ruiz, Didac Vidal-Piñeiro, Stefano Romeo, Giovanni Volpe, Joana B. Pereira
Network Neuroscience 1-40 (2022)
doi: 10.1162/netn_a_00286
medRxiv: 10.1101/2022.03.08.22272089

Aging is a major risk factor for cardiovascular and neurodegenerative disorders, with considerable societal and economic implications. Healthy aging is accompanied by changes in functional connectivity between and within resting-state functional networks, which have been associated with cognitive decline. However, there is no consensus on the impact of sex on these age-related functional trajectories. Here, we show that multilayer measures provide crucial information on the interaction between sex and age on network topology, allowing for better assessment of cognitive, structural, and cardiovascular risk factors that have been shown to differ between men and women, as well as providing additional insights into the genetic influences on changes in functional connectivity that occur during aging. In a large cross-sectional sample of 37543 individuals from the UK Biobank cohort, we demonstrate that such multilayer measures that capture the relationship between positive and negative connections are more sensitive to sex-related changes in the whole-brain connectivity patterns and their topological architecture throughout aging, when compared to standard connectivity and topological measures. Our findings indicate that multilayer measures contain previously unknown information on the relationship between sex and age, which opens up new avenues for research into functional brain connectivity in aging.

Playing with Active Matter on ArXiv

One exemplar of the HEXBUGS used in the experiment. (Image by the Authors of the manuscript.)
Playing with Active Matter
Angelo Barona Balda, Aykut Argun, Agnese Callegari, Giovanni Volpe
arXiv: 2209.04168

In the last 20 years, active matter has been a very successful research field, bridging the fundamental physics of nonequilibrium thermodynamics with applications in robotics, biology, and medicine. This field deals with active particles, which, differently from passive Brownian particles, can harness energy to generate complex motions and emerging behaviors. Most active-matter experiments are performed with microscopic particles and require advanced microfabrication and microscopy techniques. Here, we propose some macroscopic experiments with active matter employing commercially available toy robots, i.e., the Hexbugs. We demonstrate how they can be easily modified to perform regular and chiral active Brownian motion. We also show that Hexbugs can interact with passive objects present in their environment and, depending on their shape, set them in motion and rotation. Furthermore, we show that, by introducing obstacles in the environment, we can sort the robots based on their motility and chirality. Finally, we demonstrate the emergence of Casimir-like activity-induced attraction between planar objects in the presence of active particles in the environment.

Multi-cohort and longitudinal Bayesian clustering study of stage and subtype in Alzheimer’s disease published in Nature Communications

Comparison of cluster-specific covariance matrixes with node strength. (Image by the Authors.)
Multi-cohort and longitudinal Bayesian clustering study of stage and subtype in Alzheimer’s disease
Konstantinos Poulakis, Joana B. Pereira, J.-Sebastian Muehlboeck, Lars-Olof Wahlund, Örjan Smedby, Giovanni Volpe, Colin L. Masters, David Ames, Yoshiki Niimi, Takeshi Iwatsubo, Daniel Ferreira, Eric Westman, Japanese Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative & Australian Imaging, Biomarkers and Lifestyle study
Nature Communications 13, 4566 (2022)
doi: 10.1038/s41467-022-32202-6

Understanding Alzheimer’s disease (AD) heterogeneity is important for understanding the underlying pathophysiological mechanisms of AD. However, AD atrophy subtypes may reflect different disease stages or biologically distinct subtypes. Here we use longitudinal magnetic resonance imaging data (891 participants with AD dementia, 305 healthy control participants) from four international cohorts, and longitudinal clustering to estimate differential atrophy trajectories from the age of clinical disease onset. Our findings (in amyloid-β positive AD patients) show five distinct longitudinal patterns of atrophy with different demographical and cognitive characteristics. Some previously reported atrophy subtypes may reflect disease stages rather than distinct subtypes. The heterogeneity in atrophy rates and cognitive decline within the five longitudinal atrophy patterns, potentially expresses a complex combination of protective/risk factors and concomitant non-AD pathologies. By alternating between the cross-sectional and longitudinal understanding of AD subtypes these analyses may allow better understanding of disease heterogeneity.

Unraveling Parkinson’s disease heterogeneity using subtypes based on multimodal data published in Parkinsonism and Related Disorders

Particular of the brain in the group comparison analysis. (Image by the Authors.)
Unraveling Parkinson’s disease heterogeneity using subtypes based on multimodal data
Franziska Albrecht, Konstantinos Poulakis, Malin Freidle, Hanna Johansson, Urban Ekman, Giovanni Volpe, Eric Westman, Joana B. Pereira, Erika Franzén
Parkinsonism and Related Disorders 102, 19-29 (2022)
doi: 10.1016/j.parkreldis.2022.07.014


Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a clinically and neuroanatomically heterogeneous neurodegenerative disease characterized by different subtypes. To this date, no studies have used multimodal data that combines clinical, motor, cognitive and neuroimaging assessments to identify these subtypes, which may provide complementary, clinically relevant information. To address this limitation, we subtyped participants with mild-moderate PD based on a rich, multimodal dataset of clinical, cognitive, motor, and neuroimaging variables.


Cross-sectional data from 95 PD participants from our randomized EXPANd (EXercise in PArkinson’s disease and Neuroplasticity) controlled trial were included. Participants were subtyped using clinical, motor, and cognitive assessments as well as structural and resting-state MRI data. Subtyping was done by random forest clustering. We extracted information about the subtypes by inspecting their neuroimaging profiles and descriptive statistics.


Our multimodal subtyping analysis yielded three PD subtypes: a motor-cognitive subtype characterized by widespread alterations in brain structure and function as well as impairment in motor and cognitive abilities; a cognitive dominant subtype mainly impaired in cognitive function that showed frontoparietal structural and functional changes; and a motor dominant subtype impaired in motor variables without any brain alterations. Motor variables were most important for the subtyping, followed by gray matter volume in the right medial postcentral gyrus.


Three distinct PD subtypes were identified in our multimodal dataset. The most important features to subtype PD participants were motor variables in addition to structural MRI in the sensorimotor region. These findings have the potential to improve our understanding of PD heterogeneity, which in turn can lead to personalized interventions and rehabilitation.