Abstract : Active contours are adapted to image segmentation by energy minimization. The energies often exhibit local minima, requiring regularization. Such an a priori can be expressed as a shape prior and used in two main ways: (1) a shape prior energy is combined with the segmentation energy into a trade-off between prior compliance and accuracy or (2) the segmentation energy is minimized in the space defined by a parametric shape prior. Methods (1) require the tuning of a data-dependent balance parameter and methods (1) and (2) are often dedicated to a specific prior or contour representation, with the prior and segmentation aspects often meshed together, increasing complexity. A general framework for category (2) is proposed: it is independent of the prior and contour representations and it separates the prior and segmentation aspects. It relies on the relationship shown here between the shape gradient, the prior-induced admissible contour transformations, and the segmentation energy minimization.