Cell Painting, a high-content image-based assay for morphological profiling using multiplexed fluorescent dyes

Mark-Anthony Bray, Shantanu Singh, Han Han, Chadwick T Davis, Blake Borgeson, Cathy Hartland, Maria Kost-Alimova, Sigrun M Gustafsdottir, Christopher C Gibson & Anne E Carpenter
Nature Protocols
Originally Published August 25, 2016


In morphological profiling, quantitative data are extracted from microscopy images of cells to identify biologically relevant similarities and differences among samples based on these profiles. This protocol describes the design and execution of experiments using Cell Painting, which is a morphological profiling assay that multiplexes six fluorescent dyes, imaged in five channels, to reveal eight broadly relevant cellular components or organelles. Cells are plated in multiwell plates, perturbed with the treatments to be tested, stained, fixed, and imaged on a high-throughput microscope. Next, an automated image analysis software identifies individual cells and measures ~1,500 morphological features (various measures of size, shape, texture, intensity, and so on) to produce a rich profile that is suitable for the detection of subtle phenotypes. Profiles of cell populations treated with different experimental perturbations can be compared to suit many goals, such as identifying the phenotypic impact of chemical or genetic perturbations, grouping compounds and/or genes into functional pathways, and identifying signatures of disease. Cell culture and image acquisition takes 2 weeks; feature extraction and data analysis take an additional 1–2 weeks.