Points2Regions: Fast, interactive clustering of imaging-based spatial transcriptomics data

Axel Andersson, Andrea Behanova, Christophe Avenel, Jonas Windhager, Filip Malmberg, Carolina Wählby
bioRxiv (2024)


Imaging-based spatial transcriptomics techniques generate image data that, once processed, results in a set of spatial points with categorical labels for different mRNA species. A crucial part of analyzing downstream data involves the analysis of these point patterns. Here, biologically interesting patterns can be explored at different spatial scales. Molecular patterns on a cellular level would correspond to cell types, whereas patterns on a millimeter scale would correspond to tissue-level structures. Often, clustering methods are employed to identify and segment regions with distinct point-patterns. Traditional clustering techniques for such data are constrained by reliance on complementary data or extensive machine learning, limiting their applicability to tasks on a particular scale. This paper introduces ‘Points2Regions’, a practical tool for clustering spatial points with categorical labels. Its flexible and computationally efficient clustering approach enables pattern discovery across multiple scales, making it a powerful tool for exploratory analysis. Points2Regions has demonstrated efficient performance in various datasets, adeptly defining biologically relevant regions similar to those found by scale-specific methods. As a Python package integrated into TissUUmaps and a Napari plugin, it offers interactive clustering and visualization, significantly enhancing user experience in data exploration. In essence, Points2Regions presents a user-friendly and simple tool for exploratory analysis of spatial points with categorical labels.