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Differentiation. 2012 Jul;84(1):149-62. doi: 10.1016/j.diff.2012.05.003. Epub 2012 Jun 12.

Quantitative in vivo imaging of embryonic development: opportunities and challenges.

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Department of Biomedical Engineering, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853, USA.


Animal models are critically important for a mechanistic understanding of embryonic morphogenesis. For decades, visualizing these rapid and complex multidimensional events has relied on projection images and thin section reconstructions. While much insight has been gained, fixed tissue specimens offer limited information on dynamic processes that are essential for tissue assembly and organ patterning. Quantitative imaging is required to unlock the important basic science and clinically relevant secrets that remain hidden. Recent advances in live imaging technology have enabled quantitative longitudinal analysis of embryonic morphogenesis at multiple length and time scales. Four different imaging modalities are currently being used to monitor embryonic morphogenesis: optical, ultrasound, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and micro-computed tomography (micro-CT). Each has its advantages and limitations with respect to spatial resolution, depth of field, scanning speed, and tissue contrast. In addition, new processing tools have been developed to enhance live imaging capabilities. In this review, we analyze each type of imaging source and its use in quantitative study of embryonic morphogenesis in small animal models. We describe the physics behind their function, identify some examples in which the modality has revealed new quantitative insights, and then conclude with a discussion of new research directions with live imaging.

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