Skip to main content

Automatic identification of scientific publications describing digital reconstructions of neural morphology


The increasing number of peer-reviewed publications constitutes a challenge for biocuration. For example, NeuroMorpho.Org, a sharing platform for digital reconstructions of neural morphology, must evaluate more than 6000 potentially relevant articles per year to identify data of interest. Here, we describe a tool that uses natural language processing and deep learning to assess the likelihood of a publication to be relevant for the project. The tool automatically identifies articles describing digitally reconstructed neural morphologies with high accuracy. Its processing rate of 900 publications per hour is not only amply sufficient to autonomously track new research, but also allowed the successful evaluation of older publications backlogged due to limited human resources. The number of bio-entities found since launching the tool almost doubled while greatly reducing manual labor. The classification tool is open source, configurable, and simple to use, making it extensible to other biocuration projects.

1 Introduction

Biocuration is the conversion of peer-reviewed biomedical information into accessible data understandable by humans and machines [1]. The exponential growth of the scientific literature makes text mining an indispensable element of the biocuration workflow [2]. The process involves multiple operations: finding the relevant publications (triage), identifying the bio-entity data within the text, extracting and normalizing the selected data, storing the entries into a database, and validating the correctness of the re-structured information.

Triage is one of the most labor-intensive tasks: biocurators use search engines to query potentially relevant publications using keywords; they must then inspect the resultant collection of articles to identify those containing information that needs to be extracted.

Multiple machine learning approaches have been applied to reduce the effort expended in triage. When employing shallow methods such as Naïve Bayes and random forest on input consisting of the article title, abstract, and figure captions, use of balanced data sets generally outperforms imbalanced data sets [3], and the same holds true for support vector machines algorithm [4, 5]. A more comprehensive study reviews performance varying the imbalanced proportions, gradually under-sampling the majority class by a factor of 5% from 90–10% to 50–50% [6]; although recall improved with balance, it was close to random for all the tests performed. In addition, deep methods such as convolutional neural networks (CNN) [7] have been combined with word embeddings [8] to capture semantic meaning and relationships between words. To manage imbalance distributions, [9] proposed a new model which combines Deep Boltzmann [10] with CNN using title and abstract with accuracy between 0.57 and 0.77 depending on the data set. To raise accuracy up to 0.82, [11] added evidence fragments (paragraphs which reference a figure), PubMed Medical Subject Headings, and captions, reaching 0.91 if including full text. [12] used title, abstract, journal information, and publication type over three data sets with good precision (\(>0.91\)) and recall (\(>0.93\)) on the balanced data sets.

NeuroMorpho.Org is a database of digitally reconstructed neuronal and glial morphology [13, 14]. Digital reconstructions of neural morphology are computer-based 3D representations of the branching structure of individual cells traced from microscopy images with specialized software [15]. These data capture essential features of neural architecture that underlie brain activity and connectivity. Tracking the changes in cellular structure that occur during development, aging, and disease or quantifying the differences between species, anatomical regions, and cell types are paramount to understanding neural function [16, 17]. When searching suitable content for the database, NeuroMorpho.Org cannot simply rely on keyword queries from journals and literature indexing engines because of the need to differentiate between microscopy imaging and digital reconstructions. Language models used in machine translation, question answering, speech recognition, and sentiment analysis can capture syntax, semantics, and context meanings. However, these methods are not directly applicable to NeuroMorpho.Org, because the key paragraphs needed for triage reflect specific technical details (digital reconstructions) rather than the main topic of the publication. On one hand, this makes the use of full text necessary [18], rather than only figures and abstracts, to prevent missing relevant publications. On the other hand, complex algorithms typically deployed for full text analysis, like CNN and word embeddings, constitute a technological barrier, as they require computer programming and deep mathematics knowledge in addition to expensive hardware requirements to be trained.

The curators of NeuroMorpho.Org continuously search the peer-reviewed literature and actively contact authors to acquire, process, and publicly release new data [19]. The main bottleneck for the project is the triage task: recognizing relevant peer-reviewed publications, which are \(\sim \)10% of the total set of retrieved documents, takes one skilled individual an average of 3.5 h per article [20] in addition to the substantial time required for personnel training [21]. We developed PaperBot [22], a tool to improve the publication identification and acquisition process. Adoption of PaperBot drastically increased the number of found publications from an average of fewer than 800 per year to almost 6000, further aggravating the triage problems. Here we propose a simple deep learning tool designed to be installed and used without machine learning knowledge, and find relevant content that could be potentially missed by semantic triage methods. It trains quickly on any modern computer and potentially could be applied to projects with disparate relevance criteria where previously annotated text is available to re-train the classifier model. Specifically, the tool assesses whether the text is related to the domain of interest (neural morphology) or off-topic. If the text is related, the tool calculates the likelihood that the article describes digitally reconstructed neurons or glia. Moreover, the tool is easy to re-train for capturing new features or improving performance.

We have deployed and are actively using the tool to automatically discard non-relevant publications and sort the remaining ones by relevance. This helps us review first publications with higher likelihood of containing neural reconstructions, increasing the amount of data that become available to the research community.

2 Methods

Fig. 1
figure 1

Schematic workflow in the operation of the deep neural network classifier. The first step is the data acquisition, performed using PaperBot, a tool to search peer-reviewed publications from multiple sources using keywords. These acquired publications are each manually annotated as relevant or irrelevant depending on whether they describe new neural reconstructions. The second step includes filtering away the publications extracted from pdf files (due to lower text quality), balancing relevant and irrelevant data sets, extracting relevant paragraphs from the text to reduce noise and improve performance, and tokenizing to vectorize the text. The final step divides the data into train, validation, and test sets to optimize the deep learning classifier hyper-parameters and evaluate performance

We trained a deep learning classifier to return the likelihood that digital reconstructions of neuronal or glial morphology were performed during the research described in a text. The following subsections describe the steps followed to develop this smart tool (Fig. 1).

2.1 Acquiring data: PaperBot

The pipeline starts by finding and acquiring all the new research publications that potentially describe digitally reconstructed neural morphology. For this task, we utilize PaperBot, a configurable, modular, open-source web crawler that automatically identifies peer-reviewed articles based on periodic full-text searches across publisher portals [22]. Queries rely on customizable combinations of keywords that, for this project, focus on the tracing systems (e.g., Neurolucida, Imaris, Simple Neurite Tracer, NeuronJ), file format extension (SWC), or terms related to neural reconstructions (skeleton, Sholl analysis, filament, morphology, dendrites, axons, confocal microscopy, etc.).

PaperBot acquires the full text of available publications including title, abstract, figure legends, and all sections such as Introduction, Methods, Results, Conclusion and References. From publishers that offer an Application Programming Interface (API), PaperBot gleans high-quality text made up of paragraphs. When only PDF files are provided, the extracted text is of lower quality as it contains page headers and footers mixed with the content as well as occasional split and incomplete words. We only utilized the API-derived high-quality text for training the classifier, but also included the PDF-derived lower-quality text for analyzing the results.

2.2 Filtering and balancing data

The second step consisted of selecting a pool of publications suitable for training the classifier based on existing annotations. Since inception of the NeuroMorpho.Org project, our manual curation process categorized every paper returned by keyword search with one of four labels: (i) relevant, if the text describes neural morphology that was digitally reconstructed in the course of the described research; (ii) linked, if the text describes neural morphology that had been digitally reconstructed previously as described in a cited reference; (iii) uncertain, if the text is insufficient for an expert reader to unambiguously ascertain whether or not neural morphology was digitally reconstructed; and (iv) irrelevant, if the text does not describe digital reconstructions of neural morphology. Given the goal of the classifier, we only included publications in the first and last category in the training data set from the period 2016–2019, which have been reviewed to confirm they are correctly labeled.

The resultant data set consisted of 1995 relevant and 2971 irrelevant publications. We balanced this data set by random under-sampling to avoid a bias towards the majority class as typically observed when learning from imbalanced distributions [23]. Random under-sampling discards stochastically selected entries from the majority class to match the sample size of the minority class, which works well in practice and is simple to implement [24]. After balancing, the total number of publications was 3990.

2.3 Selecting relevant paragraphs

Each publication contains many paragraphs with hundreds of words each. Only a minority of these paragraphs describe digital reconstructions of neural morphology. Typically, the critical portions of text necessary for triage do not describe the primary subject matter of the publication. As a consequence, using the full text to train the deep learning model resulted in very poor performance. At the same time, the essential triage paragraphs are not always found in the same article section (methods, abstract, figure captions, data and materials, etc.) in all research papers. This makes it impossible to decide in advance which parts of the text to select. Thus, to reduce noise and improve performance, we removed all paragraphs that did not contain any of the keywords utilized in the original PaperBot query described in Section 1.1 above (the keywords can be found in Fig. 1). This process mimics the behavior of human curators performing triage, who search the text for keywords and then evaluate the corresponding paragraphs to ascertain the relevance of the publication.

2.4 Tokenizing and vectorizing data

Next, we convert the text of the selected paragraphs to numerical vectors for use in deep learning through the following steps using the spaCy library [25]:

  1. 1.

    Split text into single tokens (tokenization).

  2. 2.

    Remove punctuation and stop words, which do not add context value.

  3. 3.

    Extract the lemma for each word, which is the meaningful root form of a term.

  4. 4.

    Convert all words to lowercase.

  5. 5.

    Out of the resulting vocabulary of \(\sim 170k\) words, selected the most frequent 10k to increases performance.

Vectorization then converts words into a numerical representation using one-hot encoding [26], which creates a vector containing 1 if the word is present or 0 if absent. We have also tried several alternative approaches for this step [26]: count encoding, inverse document frequency factor (TF-IDF), and word-embeddings. However, we obtained better results using one-hot encoding, due to the small vocabulary, the scarcity of the tokens, the domain specific language, and the binary nature of our classification (relevant/irrelevant).

2.5 Dividing the data into train, validation, and test sets

We randomly split the data into two non-overlapping sets: one for train and validation, and the other for testing. The test set represents 10% of the data and is held out during training and validation to obtain an unbiased estimate of the performance. On the remaining 90% of the data, we applied tenfold cross validation [27], where the data set is split in two further subsets: one used to learn the model and the other used to validate it. During this step the data are split 10 times randomly and with each iteration a different set of data is held out for validation. The validation set, consisting of 9% of the original data, is used to tune the neural network and search the hyper-parameters yielding the best results for the model trained using the remaining 81% of the data.

2.6 Training the neural network model

The objective of a feedforward neural network \(\overset{\wedge }{y}=f(x;\Theta )\) is to learn the parameters \(\Theta \) that result in a good estimate function of the data x provided. The network architecture is formed by units grouped in layers connected in a chain structure, each layer represented by Equation (1):

$$\begin{aligned} h^{(n)} = g^{(n)}(W^{(n)T}x +b^{(n)}) \end{aligned}$$

Here, n represents the layer which consist of many units acting in parallel, each representing a vector-to-scalar function; the transpose of matrix W provides the weights of a linear transformation along with the bias vector b; and the non-linear activation function g is applied to compute the values of the hidden layer. To learn a good estimate \(\overset{\wedge }{y}\), the back-propagation step computes the gradient to minimize the deviation between the true value and the predicted one, called the loss function (\(Loss(\overset{\wedge }{y}, y)\)). For balanced-classification problems, accuracy (Eq. 2) is used to measure the performance of the classifier based on True Positive (TP), True Negative (TN), False Positive (FP), and False Negative (FN):

$$\begin{aligned} Accuracy = \frac{TP + TN}{TP +TN +FP +FN} \end{aligned}$$

2.7 Selecting the hyper-parameters

Hyper-parameters are settings that control the behavior of the machine learning algorithm, but are not learned by the algorithm itself [28]. The goal is to minimize the loss function while maximizing accuracy.

Fig. 2
figure 2

Hyper-parameters accuracy and loss drawings used to select the most promising values. A Learning rate. B Mini-batch size. C Number of hidden units per hidden layer. D Number of hidden layers. E Optimization algorithm: Stochastic gradient descent (SGD) [38]; adaptive gradients methods RMSProp [39], and Adam [40]

There are two approaches to selecting hyper-parameters in a neural network model: manually when the computational resources are limited or automatically otherwise. We applied the manual approach: we fixed all values except one to be determined, starting from the most important parameters. In each case, we aimed to search through a broad enough range to find good results, but sufficiently contained to finish the task in a reasonable amount of time. To facilitate the process, we plotted accuracy and loss (Fig. 2) and selected the most promising value from the tested ones (Table 3). The order and role of the hyper-parameters is the following.

  1. 1.

    The learning rate is the fractional amount by which the weights are updated during training and controls the training speed; a low rate typically yields results closer to optimum at the cost of a slow process, while high rates can produce faster learning, with the risk of non-monotonous (e.g., oscillatory) convergence.

  2. 2.

    The model weights are updated by gradient descent after each batch of data. Using the entire training set as batch requires high memory, while using a single stochastically sampled element is noisy and inefficient. The mini-batch gradient descent size is a value between 1 and the whole training data set.

  3. 3.

    The number of hidden units form the width of the neural network. Increasing this number typically improves the model representation while increasing computational cost.

  4. 4.

    The number of hidden layers represent the depth of the neural network. Increasing this numbers also typically improves the model representation while increasing computational cost.

  5. 5.

    The optimization algorithm finds the optimal values for the weight vectors.

  6. 6.

    The recommended activation function for modern neural networks is the rectified linear unit (ReLU) [29,30,31], defined as the positive part of the argument, because it generalizes robustly and works effectively with gradient descent algorithms [28]

  7. 7.

    The epochs are the number of iterations performed over the entire training set. We observed that our neural network model reaches stable results after 30 epochs.

  8. 8

    The loss function measures how close the estimated output is compared to the input class value.

We performed hyper-parameter selection once. Performance remained stable for new re-trained model versions conducted when more data were available. Indicating that additional tuning was not required.

2.8 Selecting the thresholds

The decision or classification thresholds are the likelihood values selected to decide the belonging to a given class. We defined three thresholds identifying four different categories: Positive High publications are directly accepted as relevant; Positive Low and Negative Low publications are reviewed by curators to check the relevance classifier label; and Negative High publications are automatically discarded.

2.9 Coding the tool

We developed the code in the Python programming language. To create the model, we used the deep learning open-source framework Keras [32], which runs on top of TensorFlow and facilitates its use. TensorFlow is a deep learning library developed and maintained by Google that provides low and high-level APIs built to run on multiple CPUs or GPUs [33].

The tool is containerized with Docker as a service and exposes a REST API that offers three services: Train, Classify, and Search Keywords.

Fig. 3
figure 3

API json results for each of the calls. A Train service. B Classify service—example of irrelevant publication. C Classify service—example of relevant publication, with likelihood. D Search Keywords service

The Train service reads all files storing the training text instances, vectorizes the texts, and trains the classifier. Two new files are created as a result of the classification: the tokenizer vocabulary and the classification model. Both files will be used in the classification step to vectorize new data and predict the relevance. The output returns data in json format containing the accuracy and loss values for the train and test sets, the epochs or training iterations, the number of train and test samples, the version of the model used when classifying (in case multiple versions are maintained and evaluated), and the classification result for each of the test samples [true value, classification value] (Fig. 3A).

The Classify service returns json format data with the likelihood of relevance of the given text. First, it searches for the relevant paragraphs on the text; a paragraph is relevant if it contains any pre-defined keywords. Occasionally Google Scholar returns publications that do not contain any of the query keywords, an unintended side effect of its expanded semantic search approach; our tool identifies these cases as off-topic and classifies them as irrelevant (Fig. 3B). If there are relevant paragraphs, their text is vectorized using the tokenizer file created in the previous step and sent to the classifier to predict the relevancy likelihood (Fig. 3C) using the model file also created in the previous step.

The Search Keywords service selects all instances found in the text from the user-configurable set of keywords by extracting the token and comparing the lemma. The result is a json data format object composed by each of the file names and the list of the found keywords (Fig. 3D).

2.10 Adapting the tool to new biocurations projects

To use the tool in new biocuration projects, it is necessary to train the model with new data. This involves providing training data in the form of JSON files labeled as Positive or Negative, followed by an index (e.g., Positive_1.json, Positive_2.json, Negative_1.json). Each of these files contains a JSON data structure with a list of the texts paragraphs. The file name represents the corresponding class value (Positive or Negative) used for classifier training. Additionally, the keywords used to select the relevant paragraphs are stored in separate files, with one keyword per line.

We hypothesize that no further hyper-parameter tuning is needed because of the similarity observed among research papers. However, it is important to note that this hypothesis has not been substantiated or proven yet.

3 Results

PaperBot was installed in January 2016 and tested during a 2-year period. It was then launched retroactively to search automatically what was previously queried by hand, and found several missed publications from previous years. In 2018 the set of keywords used to find publications was vastly increased taking advantage of the automated processing capability. Once launched, it outperformed the manual task in the current years while still finding missed publications for previous periods (Fig. 4A). On the downside, the number of irrelevant publications found increased accordingly (Fig. 4B).

Fig. 4
figure 4

Number of publications found using manual (clear background) and automated (gray background) searches. A Relevant publications by the year in which they were found grouped by published period: before 2012 (white stacked bars), 2012–2015 (light grey), and 2016–2022 (dark grey). B All publications by the year in which they were found grouped by relevancy: relevant (black background) and irrelevant (clear background)

Table 1 Performance of validation and test sets

We trained and tuned the deep neural network described in the Methods (Fig. 1) until its performance fulfilled our lab requirements: an average accuracy greater than \(93\%\) minimizing loss (Table 1). Correctly and incorrectly labeled results for the test set are shown as a confusion matrix in Table 2.

Table 2 Confusion matrix of the test set
Table 3 Hyper-parameters used to train the deep neural network
Fig. 5
figure 5

Selecting the most convenient thresholds. A Proportion of irrelevant articles incorrectly classified as relevant (false relevant) as a function of the fraction of labor saved by accepting the automated classification without review. The inset displays the enlarged range between 75% and 100% of saved labor. B Proportion of relevant articles incorrectly classified as irrelevant (false irrelevant) as a function of the fraction of labor saved by accepting the automated classification without review. The inset displays the enlarged range between 75% and 100% of saved labor. C Using test labeled data we select optimal thresholds to maximize saved labor while minimizing misclassification errors and the number of publications to be manually reviewed. D Once the classifier is deployed, we analyze the results by type of text: high-quality text obtained from publishers’ APIs and low-quality raw text extracted from PDFs

Approximately \(10\%\) of all the publications found are relevant (between \(9\% and 13\%\) depending on the year: Fig. 4B). Triage is an intrinsically probabilistic operation, as each publication is assigned a relevancy likelihood. Thus, choosing different thresholds for NeuroMorpho.Org depending on the damage of mislabeling proved to be a successful strategy. Mistakenly labeling a relevant article as irrelevant is harmful for the project, because it means the reconstructions cannot be requested and will be effectively lost. Conversely, incorrectly labeling an irrelevant article as relevant only wastes labor since we request the data and then correct the records manually when the authors reply indicating that no relevant data were collected. Therefore, instead of using a traditional binary classification (relevant vs irrelevant), we convert the probability returned by the classifier into four labels, adding low confidence and high confidence to each of the classes as described in section 1.8. To select the most appropriate values for each of the thresholds we calculated the percentage of labor saved from curators against the percentage of incorrectly classified publications (Fig. 5A and B). Specifically, we selected the 0.18 threshold as Irrelevant with high confidence, which saves \(96.4\%\) of manual processing time with only \(3.10\%\) of misclassified articles. At the opposite end, we selected a threshold of 0.98 as Relevant with high confidence, which saves \(83.06\%\) of manual processing time while misclassifying just \(0.97\%\) of articles. After these fully automated steps, \(3.63\%\) of low-confidence irrelevant articles (probability between 0.18 and 0.5) and \(16.94\%\) of low-confidence relevant ones (probability between 0.5 and 0.98) remain for manual review. On average, with the selected thresholds, from a set of 100 publications identified by PaperBot, only 5 need to be reviewed, of which 2 will be relevant and 3 irrelevant. From the remaining 95 not reviewed, 3 publications will be miss-classified (Fig. 5C).

The final version of the classifier has been operating in the lab since November 2020 in review mode, where all the publications are reviewed by an expert after being labeled by the classifier. Most of the publications are correctly labeled by the classifier thanks to the low loss obtained for the classification model.

In the real environment, PaperBot retrieves both high-quality text from the publishers’ API, which represents \(62\%\) of the total, and lower-quality content extracted from pdf files. This remaining \(38\%\) was not used for model training but is still included in the analysis. As expected, when separately analyzing the model on high- and low-quality text, the latter results in lower performance. The Relevant with high confidence publications represent \(75.37\%\) of the high-quality text pool, but only \(50.42\%\) for the low-quality text pool, implying a \(25\%\) increase in articles requiring review. Similarly, the Irrelevant with high confidence publications are \(68.18\%\) of the high-quality texts, but only \(44.54\%\) of the low-quality ones, increasing the need for manual review by \(23.64\%\) (Fig. 5D).

Fig. 6
figure 6

Numbers of mined and shared neural reconstructions. A Number of mined and shared reconstructions by year of evaluation for three periods: manual search and evaluation (2012–2015), automated search and manual evaluation (2016–2019), and automated search and evaluation (2020–2022). In addition to the more than tripled mined volume between the first and third period, note that only \(\sim \)35% of mined data were shared from the first period and more than 80% in the last period. B Number of reconstructions shared (green), not shared (red), and pending or being requested (blue) to determine the availability for the evaluation years 2020–2022 grouped by published date

From the practical viewpoint of NeuroMorpho.Org, the most important success metric for the relevancy classification is the number of mined reconstructions and corresponding availability of shared data. From this perspective, we can compare the number of reconstructions mined and shared by the authors during three main time periods: manual search and evaluation, automated search and manual evaluation, and automated search and evaluation (Fig. 6). Although during the automated search many publications were found, it has been impossible to process all of them because of the human resources required to manually evaluate the publications.

Once the automated evaluation was deployed, we were able to process all of these publications, increasing by 2.37-fold the yearly average reconstructions mined compared to the previous period (Fig. 6A).

Interestingly, we found that requesting data on time improves the shared rate (Fig. 6B). We are currently requesting data for old publications that were missed during the manual search period. However, this attempt is often frustrated by many challenges: the contact information may be outdated, essential lab personnel may no longer be available, or the data may be lost due to storage obsolescence.

From a technological standpoint, using a simple neural network approach has allowed us to train, test, and tune many parameters very efficiently. Reading the data from pre-processed files and performing 30 training iterations for 10 k-fold takes 2.5 min on a modern GPU laptop. Most important, the classifier evaluates one publication every four seconds. One person manually searching publications online, finding the full text, reading it, and assessing the relevance spends 3.5 h per relevant publication found. During the testing period of the tool described here, this time went down to 1.68 h, which we expect to further decrease when we stop reviewing and confirming the classifier results.

4 Conclusions

The number of peer-reviewed publications continues to grow every year, making biocuration an arduous task; for scientists in general to keep up to date on new research, the step of triage must be automated. For the specific use-case of NeuroMorpho.Org, ordering all articles by relevance likelihood helped prioritize the data requests starting from the publications that were most likely to contain reconstructions, which increased the sharing rate. Timely identification is essential because delayed data requests were shown to be less frequently fulfilled.

Triage remains an open problem, because different labs typically develop ad-hoc solutions tailored to their own personalized needs. Thus, the resultant tools tend to only perform well for the original data sets for which they were designed. Conversely, the services we introduced here could be scalable to different biocuration projects with alternative definitions of relevancy. While we demonstrated the successful application to NeuroMorpho.Org, the same strategy could be expanded in many other triage applications [34].

Deep learning has released curators in our lab from non-creative work resulting in a better use of our time and saving almost 2 h per relevant paper reviewed. While we have so far selected very conservative thresholds, relaxing them could save even more resources at the cost of marginal data loss.

Working with large texts is often not feasible for many projects. Additionally, the process of selecting relevant paragraphs, which are not always found in the main body of papers, has been identified as crucial. It was observed that after setting the hyper-parameters, the selection of keywords to identify the relevant paragraphs had the most significant impact on performance. Currently, this task is performed manually, which may be impractical for new projects lacking extensive contextual data. As a suggestion for future research, it could be valuable to explore the possibility of using machine learning techniques to automate the paragraph selection process. By training models to learn the criteria for identifying relevant paragraphs, the efficiency and practicality of such projects could be enhanced.

A potential direction to extend this line of research is to combine and integrate the described work with the recently introduced automated extraction, from the same articles, of rich metadata pertaining to the identified reconstructions, such as the animal species, sex, and age; the brain region and cell type; and the histological and imaging protocols [35]. At the same time, it may be worth exploring in future research the possibility of combining full text with figures [36, 37], morphological metadata, and bibliographic information (such as journal and authors), to learn new models and improve the results further.

Availability of data and materials

The software is available at


  1. Howe D, Costanzo M, Fey P, Gojobori T, Hannick L, Hide W, Hill DP, Kania R, Schaeffer M, St Pierre S et al (2008) The future of biocuration. Nature 455(7209):47–50

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Hirschman L, Burns GAPC, Krallinger M, Arighi C, Cohen KB, Valencia A, Wu CH, Chatr-Aryamontri A, Dowell KG, Huala E, Lourenço A, Nash R, Veuthey A-L, Wiegers T, Winter AG (2012) Text mining for the biocuration workflow. Database 2012:bas020.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Jiang X, Ringwald M, Blake J, Shatkay H (2017) Effective biomedical document classification for identifying publications relevant to the mouse Gene Expression Database (GXD). Database 2017:bax017.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Jiang X, Li P, Kadin J, Blake JA, Ringwald M, Shatkay H (2020) Integrating image caption information into biomedical document classification in support of biocuration. Database 2017:bax017.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Jiang X, Ringwald M, Blake JA, Arighi C, Zhang G, Shatkay H (2019) An effective biomedical document classification scheme in support of biocuration addressing class imbalance. Database. 2019:baz045.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Almeida H, Meurs M-J, Kosseim L, Butler G, Tsang A (2014) Machine learning for biomedical literature triage. PLoS ONE 9(12):115892

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. LeCun Y et al (1989) Generalization and network design strategies. Connect perspect 19:143–155

    Google Scholar 

  8. Bengio Y, Ducharme R, Vincent P, Janvin C (2003) A neural probabilistic language model. J Mach Learn Res 3:1137–1155

    MATH  Google Scholar 

  9. Yan Y, Yin X-C, Yang C, Li S, Zhang B-W (2018) Biomedical literature classification with a CNNS-based hybrid learning network. PloS ONE 13(7):0197933

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Salakhutdinov R, Hinton G (2009) Deep boltzmann machines. Proceedings of AISTATS 2009(5):448–455

    Google Scholar 

  11. Burns GA, Li X, Peng N (2019) Building deep learning models for evidence classification from the open access biomedical literature. Database 2019:baz034.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Lee K, Famiglietti ML, McMahon A, Wei C-H, MacArthur JAL, Poux S, Breuza L, Bridge A, Cunningham F, Xenarios I et al (2018) Scaling up data curation using deep learning: an application to literature triage in genomic variation resources. PLoS comput Biol 14(8):1006390

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Ascoli GA, Donohue DE, Halavi M (2007) Neuromorpho org: a central resource for neuronal morphologies. J Neurosci 27(35):9247–9251

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Akram MA, Ljungquist B, Ascoli GA (2022) Efficient metadata mining of web-accessible neural morphologies. Prog Biophys Mol Biol 168:94–102.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Liu Y, Wang G, Ascoli GA, Zhou J, Liu L (2022) Neuron tracing from light microscopy images: automation, deep learning and bench testing. Bioinformatics 38(24):5329–5339

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Hamilton DJ, Shepherd GM, Martone ME, Ascoli GA (2012) An ontological approach to describing neurons and their relationships. Front Neuroinform 6:15

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Akram MA, Wei Q, Ascoli GA (2023) Machine learning classification reveals robust morphometric biomarker of glial and neuronal arbors. J Neurosci Res 101(1):112–129

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Bijari K, Akram MA, Ascoli GA (2020) An open-source framework for neuroscience metadata management applied to digital reconstructions of neuronal morphology. Brain Inform 7(1):1–12

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Ascoli GA (2015) Sharing neuron data: carrots, sticks, and digital records. PLoS Biol 13(10):1002275

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Akram MA, Nanda S, Maraver P, Armañanzas R, Ascoli GA (2018) An open repository for single-cell reconstructions of the brain forest. Sci Data 5(1):1–12

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Ascoli GA, Maraver P, Nanda S, Polavaram S, Armañanzas R (2017) Win-win data sharing in neuroscience. Nat Methods 14(2):112–116

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Maraver P, Armañanzas R, Gillette TA, Ascoli GA (2019) Paperbot: open-source web-based search and metadata organization of scientific literature. BMC Bioinform 20(1):1–13

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Weiss GM, Provost F (2003) Learning when training data are costly: The effect of class distribution on tree induction. J artif Intell Res 19:315–354

    Article  MATH  Google Scholar 

  24. Johnson JM, Khoshgoftaar TM (2019) Survey on deep learning with class imbalance. J Big Data 6(1):1–54

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Honnibal M, Montani I, Van Landeghem S, Boyd A (2020) spacy: industrial-strength natural language processing in python.

  26. Sabharwal N, Agrawal A (2021) Introduction to word embeddings. Apress, Berkeley

    Book  Google Scholar 

  27. Refaeilzadeh P, Tang L, Liu H (2009) Cross-validation. Encycl Database Syst 5:532–538

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Goodfellow I, Bengio Y, Courville A (2016) Deep learning. MIT press, London

    MATH  Google Scholar 

  29. Jarrett K, Kavukcuoglu K, Ranzato M, LeCun Y (2009) What is the best multi-stage architecture for object recognition? In: 2009 IEEE 12th International Conference on Computer Vision, pp. 2146–2153. IEEE

  30. Nair V, Hinton GE (2010) Rectified linear units improve restricted boltzmann machines. In: ICML, pp. 807–814

  31. Glorot X, Bordes A, Bengio Y (2011) Deep sparse rectifier neural networks. In: Proceedings of the fourteenth international conference on artificial intelligence and statistics. JMLR Workshop and Conference Proceedings, pp. 315–323

  32. Chollet F et al. (2015) Keras.

  33. Li Y, Huang C, Ding L, Li Z, Pan Y, Gao X (2019) Deep learning in bioinformatics: introduction, application, and perspective in the big data era. Methods 166:4–21.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Anderson KR, Harris JA, Ng L, Prins P, Memar S, Ljungquist B, Fürth D, Williams RW, Ascoli GA, Dumitriu D (2021) Highlights from the era of open source web-based tools. J Neurosci 41(5):927–936

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Bijari K, Zoubi Y, Ascoli GA (2022) Assisted neuroscience knowledge extraction via machine learning applied to neural reconstruction metadata on neuromorpho. org. Brain Inform 9(1):1–11

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. Jiang S, Wang Y, Liu L, Ding L, Ruan Z, Dong H-W, Ascoli GA, Hawrylycz M, Zeng H, Peng H (2022) Petabyte-scale multi-morphometry of single neurons for whole brains. Neuroinformatics 20(2):525–536

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. Ljungquist B, Akram MA, Ascoli GA (2022) Large scale similarity search across digital reconstructions of neural morphology. Neurosci Res 181:39–45

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. Ketkar N (2017) Stochastic gradient descent. In: Ketkar N (ed) Deep learning with Python: a hands-on introduction. Apress, Berkeley, pp 113–132

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  39. Tieleman T, Hinton G (2012) Lecture 6.5-rmsprop, coursera: Neural networks for machine learning. University of Toronto, Technical Report. 6

  40. Kingma DP, Ba J (2014) Adam: a method for stochastic optimization. CoRR arXiv:1412.6980

Download references


We acknowledge all the curators that had labeled huge amounts of data, which was key for the success of the project. Special thanks to Masood Akram who reviewed and confirmed the accuracy of the evaluations, and to Kayvan Bijari for feedback and advice on natural language processing and deep learning.


This work was supported in part by NIH grants R01NS39600, R01NS086082, and U01MH114829.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



PM and GAA have designed the system specifications, user requirements, and use cases. PM has designed the neural network, implemented the codebase, developed the API, and drafted the manuscript. CT assisted with necessary data preparations, tested the results, and provided feedback on the functionality of the system for corrections. GAA provided support and guidance throughout the study and edited the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Giorgio A. Ascoli.

Ethics declarations

Consent for publication

All authors have seen and approved the current version of the paper.

Competing interests

The authors declared that they have no competing interests.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

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

Rights and permissions

Open Access This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Maraver, P., Tecuatl, C. & Ascoli, G.A. Automatic identification of scientific publications describing digital reconstructions of neural morphology. Brain Inf. 10, 23 (2023).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • DOI: