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J R Soc Interface. 2013 Jun 26;10(86):20130421. doi: 10.1098/rsif.2013.0421. Print 2013 Sep 6.

Numerical metrics for automated quantification of interstitial cell of Cajal network structural properties.

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  • 1Auckland Bioengineering Institute, The University of Auckland, Private Bag 92019, Auckland 1142, New Zealand.


Depletion of interstitial cells of Cajal (ICC) networks is known to occur in several gastrointestinal motility disorders. Although confocal microscopy can effectively image and visualize the spatial distribution of ICC networks, current descriptors of ICC depletion are limited to cell numbers and volume computations. Spatial changes in ICC network structural properties have not been quantified. Given that ICC generate electrical signals, the organization of a network may also affect physiology. In this study, six numerical metrics were formulated to automatically determine complex ICC network structural properties from confocal images: density, thickness, hole size, contact ratio, connectivity and anisotropy. These metrics were validated and applied in proof-of-concept studies to quantitatively determine jejunal ICC network changes in mouse models with decreased (5-HT2B receptor knockout (KO)) and normal (Ano1 KO) ICC numbers, and during post-natal network maturation. Results revealed a novel remodelling phenomenon occurring during ICC depletion, namely a spatial rearrangement of ICC and the preferential longitudinal alignment. In the post-natal networks, an apparent pruning of the ICC network was demonstrated. The metrics developed here enabled the first detailed quantitative analyses of structural changes that may occur in ICC networks during depletion and development.


confocal microscopy; maturation; post-natal; pruning; remodelling

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