To facilitate analysis of spatial tissue phenotypes, we created an open-source tool package named ‘Spa-RQ’ for ‘Spatial tissue analysis: image Registration & Quantification’. Spa-RQ contains software for image registration (Spa-R) and quantitative analysis of DAB staining overlap (Spa-Q). It provides an easy-to-implement workflow for serial sectioning and staining as an alternative to multiplexed techniques. To demonstrate Spa-RQ’s applicability, we analysed the spatial aspects of oncogenic KRAS-related signalling activities in non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Using Spa-R in conjunction with ImageJ/Fiji, we first performed annotation-guided tumour-by-tumour phenotyping using multiple signalling markers. This analysis showed histopathology-selective activation of PI3K/AKT and MAPK signalling in Kras mutant murine tumours, as well as high p38MAPK stress signalling in p53 null murine NSCLC. Subsequently, Spa-RQ was applied to measure the co-activation of MAPK, AKT, and their mutual effector mTOR pathway in individual tumours. Both murine and clinical NSCLC samples could be stratified into ‘MAPK/mTOR’, ‘AKT/mTOR’, and ‘Null’ signature subclasses, suggesting mutually exclusive MAPK and AKT signalling activities. Spa-RQ thus provides a robust and easy to use tool that can be employed to identify spatially-distributed tissue phenotypes.
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