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Enhancing the signal-to-noise ratio and generating contrast for cryo-EM images with convolutional neural networks.


In cryogenic electron microscopy (cryo-EM) of radiation-sensitive biological samples, both the signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) and the contrast of images are critically important in the image-processing pipeline. Classic methods improve low-frequency image contrast experimentally, by imaging with high defocus, or computationally, by applying various types of low-pass filter. These contrast improvements typically come at the expense of the high-frequency SNR, which is suppressed by high-defocus imaging and removed by low-pass filtration. Recently, convolutional neural networks (CNNs) trained to denoise cryo-EM images have produced impressive gains in image contrast, but it is not clear how these algorithms affect the information content of the image. Here, a denoising CNN for cryo-EM images was implemented and a quantitative evaluation of SNR enhancement, induced bias and the effects of denoising on image processing and three-dimensional reconstructions was performed. The study suggests that besides improving the visual contrast of cryo-EM images, the enhanced SNR of denoised images may be used in other parts of the image-processing pipeline, such as classification and 3D alignment. These results lay the groundwork for the use of denoising CNNs in the cryo-EM image-processing pipeline beyond particle picking.

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