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Opt Express. 2013 Apr 8;21(7):9043-59. doi: 10.1364/OE.21.009043.

Can OCT be sensitive to nanoscale structural alterations in biological tissue?

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Department of Biomedical Engineering, Northwestern University, 2145 Sheridan Rd.,Evanston, IL 60208, USA.


Exploration of nanoscale tissue structures is crucial in understanding biological processes. Although novel optical microscopy methods have been developed to probe cellular features beyond the diffraction limit, nanometer-scale quantification remains still inaccessible for in situ tissue. Here we demonstrate that, without actually resolving specific geometrical feature, OCT can be sensitive to tissue structural properties at the nanometer length scale. The statistical mass-density distribution in tissue is quantified by its autocorrelation function modeled by the Whittle-Mateŕn functional family. By measuring the wavelength-dependent backscattering coefficient μb(λ) and the scattering coefficient μs, we introduce a technique called inverse spectroscopic OCT (ISOCT) to quantify the mass-density correlation function. We find that the length scale of sensitivity of ISOCT ranges from ~30 to ~450 nm. Although these sub-diffractional length scales are below the spatial resolution of OCT and therefore not resolvable, they are nonetheless detectable. The sub-diffractional sensitivity is validated by 1) numerical simulations; 2) tissue phantom studies; and 3) ex vivo colon tissue measurements cross-validated by scanning electron microscopy (SEM). Finally, the 3D imaging capability of ISOCT is demonstrated with ex vivo rat buccal and human colon samples.

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