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PLoS One. 2012;7(10):e47719. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0047719. Epub 2012 Oct 16.

Measurement and 3D-visualization of cell-cycle length using double labelling with two thymidine analogues applied in early heart development.

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Department of Anatomy, Embryology & Physiology, Academic Medical Center, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.


Organ development is a complex spatial process in which local differences in cell proliferation rate play a key role. Understanding this role requires the measurement of the length of the cell cycle at every position of the three-dimensional (3D) structure. This measurement can be accomplished by exposing the developing embryo to two different thymidine analogues for two different durations immediately followed by tissue fixation. This paper presents a method and a dedicated computer program to measure the resulting labelling indices and subsequently calculate and visualize local cell cycle lengths within the 3D morphological context of a developing organ. By applying this method to the developing heart, we show a large difference in cell cycle lengths between the early heart tube and the adjacent mesenchyme of the pericardial wall. Later in development, a local increase in cell size was found to be associated with a decrease in cell cycle length in the region where the chamber myocardium starts to develop. The combined application of halogenated-thymidine double exposure and image processing enables the automated study of local cell cycle parameters in single specimens in a full 3D context. It can be applied in a wide range of research fields ranging from embryonic development to tissue regeneration and cancer research.

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