Motivation: Modern anatomical and developmental studies often require high-resolution imaging of large specimens in three dimensions (3D). Confocal microscopy produces high-resolution 3D images, but is limited by a relatively small field of view compared with the size of large biological specimens. Therefore, motorized stages that move the sample are used to create a tiled scan of the whole specimen. The physical coordinates provided by the microscope stage are not precise enough to allow direct reconstruction (Stitching) of the whole image from individual image stacks.
Results: To optimally stitch a large collection of 3D confocal images, we developed a method that, based on the Fourier Shift Theorem, computes all possible translations between pairs of 3D images, yielding the best overlap in terms of the cross-correlation measure and subsequently finds the globally optimal configuration of the whole group of 3D images. This method avoids the propagation of errors by consecutive registration steps. Additionally, to compensate the brightness differences between tiles, we apply a smooth, non-linear intensity transition between the overlapping images. Our stitching approach is fast, works on 2D and 3D images, and for small image sets does not require prior knowledge about the tile configuration.
Availability: The implementation of this method is available as an ImageJ plugin distributed as a part of the Fiji project (Fiji is just ImageJ: http://pacific.mpi-cbg.de/).