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Three-dimensional residual channel attention networks denoise and sharpen fluorescence microscopy image volumes


We demonstrate residual channel attention networks (RCAN) for the restoration and enhancement of volumetric time-lapse (four-dimensional) fluorescence microscopy data. First we modify RCAN to handle image volumes, showing that our network enables denoising competitive with three other state-of-the-art neural networks. We use RCAN to restore noisy four-dimensional super-resolution data, enabling image capture of over tens of thousands of images (thousands of volumes) without apparent photobleaching. Second, using simulations we show that RCAN enables resolution enhancement equivalent to, or better than, other networks. Third, we exploit RCAN for denoising and resolution improvement in confocal microscopy, enabling ~2.5-fold lateral resolution enhancement using stimulated emission depletion microscopy ground truth. Fourth, we develop methods to improve spatial resolution in structured illumination microscopy using expansion microscopy data as ground truth, achieving improvements of ~1.9-fold laterally and ~3.6-fold axially. Finally, we characterize the limits of denoising and resolution enhancement, suggesting practical benchmarks for evaluation and further enhancement of network performance.

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Fig. 1: Residual channel attention networks denoise super-resolution data.
Fig. 2: RCAN resolution enhancement assayed with simulated spherical phantoms.
Fig. 3: Confocal-to-STED microscopy restoration with RCAN.
Fig. 4: Using ExM to improve spatial resolution in fixed and live iSIM.

Data availability

Training and test datasets for organelle denoising, synthetic phantoms, confocal-to-STED and iSIM-to-ExM predictions are publicly accessible at the Zenodo repository ( Source data are provided with this paper.

Code availability

The code and sample data used in this study are available at An installation guide, data and instructions for use are also available from the same webpage.


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J.C., Y.W. and H. Shroff thank the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole for providing the Deep Learning for Microscopy Image Analysis Course, as well as F. Jug, J. Folkesson and P. La Riviere for providing superb instruction. We thank W. Bement for the gift of the EMTB-3XEGFP plasmid (also available as Addgene plasmid no. 26741), J. Taraska for the LAMP1-GFP plasmid, G. Patterson for the GalT-GFP plasmid and P. Chandris for the pShooter pEF-Myc-mito-GFP plasmid. We also thank P. La Riviere and H. Eden for their careful reading of, and comments on, this work. This research was supported by the intramural research programs of the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering and the National Institute of Heart, Lung, and Blood within the National Institutes of Health, and by an SBIR cooperative agreements of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (nos. 1U44GM136091-01 and 6U44GM136091-02). A.U. and I.R.-S. acknowledge grant support from NIH (no. R01 GM131054) and NSF (no. PHY 1607645). We thank the Office of Data Science Strategy, NIH, for providing a seed grant enabling us to train deep learning models using cloud-based computational resources. The NIH, its staff and officers do not recommend or endorse any company, product or service.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



S.-J.J.L., L.A.G.L. and H. Shroff conceived the project. J.C., Y.S., A.Z., C.A.C., I.R.-S., A.U. and H. Shroff designed the experiments. J.C., Y.S., A.Z., C.A.C. and I.R.-S. performed the experiments. H. Sasaki, H.L., H.C., C.C.H., S.-J.J.L. and L.A.G.L. developed and tested 3D RCAN. J.C. and J.L. adapted and tested CARE, SRResNet and ESRGAN. X.L. wrote the software for hardware control. J.C., H. Sasaki, H.L., Y.S., J.L., Y.W., X.L., M.G. and H. Shroff conceived, developed and tested the ExM pipeline. J.C., J.L., Y.W., M.G., S.N. and H.S. performed and analyzed simulations. All authors analyzed data. H. Shroff wrote the paper with input from all authors. A.U., S.-J.J.L., L.A.G.L. and H. Shroff supervised research.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Jiji Chen or Hideki Sasaki.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

H. Sasaki, H.L., Y.S., H.C., C.C.H., S.-J.J.L. and L.A.G.L. are employees of SVision LLC and Leica Microsystems, a machine vision company. H. Sasaki, H.L., Y.S., H.C., C.C.H., S.-J.J.L. and L.A.G.L. have developed Aivia (a commercial software platform) that offers the 3D RCAN developed here.

Additional information

Peer review information Nature Methods thanks Wei Ouyang, Lachlan Whitehead and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work. Rita Strack was the primary editor on this article and managed its editorial process and peer review in collaboration with the rest of the editorial team.

Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Figs. 1–21, Tables 1–8 and Note 1.

Reporting Summary

Supplementary Video 1

iSIM imaging at high SNR rapidly bleaches the sample.

Supplementary Video 2

RCAN enables super-resolution imaging over thousands of volumes.

Supplementary Video 3

Two-color volumetric image restoration with RCAN.

Supplementary Video 4

Axial views of 2× blurred input, and network predictions.

Supplementary Video 5

Axial views of 3× blurred input, and network predictions.

Supplementary Video 6

Axial views of 4× blurred input, and network predictions.

Supplementary Video 7

RCAN denoises and improves resonant confocal recordings of dividing cells.

Supplementary Video 8

RCAN denoises and improves resonant confocal recordings on additional nuclei.

Supplementary Video 9

Synthetic input, two-step RCAN prediction and ground truth for mitochondrial images based on ExM training.

Supplementary Video 10

Live-cell mitochondrial two-step RCAN prediction based on ExM training.

Supplementary Video 11

High-magnification axial view comparing deconvolved iSIM input and two-step RCAN prediction.

Supplementary Video 12

Live-cell microtubule two-step RCAN prediction based on ExM, axial views.

Supplementary Video 13

Live-cell microtubule two-step RCAN prediction based on ExM, lateral views.

Supplementary Video 14

Additional example of microtubule dynamics in another Jurkat T cell.

Source data

Source Data Fig. 1

Statistical source data for SSIM, PSNR, resolution and intensity plots (b,d,e).

Source Data Fig. 2

Statistical source data for SSIM and PSNR plots (d).

Source Data Fig. 3

Statistical source data for resolution plot (d).

Source Data Fig. 4

Statistical source data for resolution plot (c).

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Chen, J., Sasaki, H., Lai, H. et al. Three-dimensional residual channel attention networks denoise and sharpen fluorescence microscopy image volumes. Nat Methods 18, 678–687 (2021).

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