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J Anat. 2008 Aug;213(2):217-27.

High-resolution visualization of airspace structures in intact mice via synchrotron phase-contrast X-ray imaging (PCXI).

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  • 1Department of Pulmonary Medicine, Women's and Children's Hospital, 72 King William Road, North Adelaide, South Australia. david.parsons@cywhs.sa.gov.au


Anatomical visualization of airspace-containing organs in intact small animals has been limited by the resolution and contrast available from current imaging methods such as X-ray, micro-computed tomography and magnetic resonance imaging. Determining structural relationships and detailed anatomy has therefore relied on suitable fixation, sectioning and histological processing. More complex and informative analyses such as orthogonal views of an organ and three-dimensional structure visualizations have required different animals and image sets, laboriously processed to gather this complementary structural information. Precise three-dimensional anatomical views have always been difficult to achieve in small animals. Here we report the ability of phase-contrast synchrotron X-ray imaging to provide detailed two- and three-dimensional visualization of airspace organ structures in intact animals. Using sub-micrometre square pixel charge-coupled device array detectors, the structure and anatomy of hard and soft tissues, and of airspaces, is readily available using phase-contrast synchrotron X-ray imaging. Moreover, software-controlled volume-reconstructions of tomographic images not only provide unsurpassed image clarity and detail, but also selectable anatomical views that cannot be obtained with established histological techniques. The morphology and structure of nasal and lung airways and the middle ear are illustrated in intact mice, using two- and three-dimensional representations. The utility of phase-contrast synchrotron X-ray imaging for noninvasively localizing objects implanted within airspaces, and the detection of gas bubbles transiting live airways, are other novel features of this visualization methodology. The coupling of phase-contrast synchrotron X-ray imaging technology with software-based reconstruction techniques holds promise for novel and high-resolution non-invasive examination of airspace anatomy in small animal models.

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