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PLoS One. 2017 Sep 5;12(9):e0184069. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0184069. eCollection 2017.

Three-dimensional hard and soft tissue imaging of the human cochlea by scanning laser optical tomography (SLOT).

Author information

Biomedical Optics Department, Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V., Hannover, Germany.
Cluster of Excellence "Hearing4all", Hannover, Germany.
Department of Otorhinolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery, Hannover Medical School, Hannover, Germany.
Biofabrication for NIFE, Hannover, Germany.
Institute of Quantum Optics, Leibniz University of Hanover, Hannover, Germany.


The present study focuses on the application of scanning laser optical tomography (SLOT) for visualization of anatomical structures inside the human cochlea ex vivo. SLOT is a laser-based highly efficient microscopy technique which allows for tomographic imaging of the internal structure of transparent specimens. Thus, in the field of otology this technique is best convenient for an ex vivo study of the inner ear anatomy. For this purpose, the preparation before imaging comprises decalcification, dehydration as well as optical clearing of the cochlea samples in toto. Here, we demonstrate results of SLOT imaging visualizing hard and soft tissue structures with an optical resolution of down to 15 μm using extinction and autofluorescence as contrast mechanisms. Furthermore, the internal structure can be analyzed nondestructively and quantitatively in detail by sectioning of the three-dimensional datasets. The method of X-ray Micro Computed Tomography (μCT) has been previously applied to explanted cochlea and is solely based on absorption contrast. An advantage of SLOT is that it uses visible light for image formation and thus provides a variety of contrast mechanisms known from other light microscopy techniques, such as fluorescence or scattering. We show that SLOT data is consistent with μCT anatomical data and provides additional information by using fluorescence. We demonstrate that SLOT is applicable for cochlea with metallic cochlear implants (CI) that would lead to significant artifacts in μCT imaging. In conclusion, the present study demonstrates the capability of SLOT for resolution visualization of cleared human cochleae ex vivo using multiple contrast mechanisms and lays the foundation for a broad variety of additional studies.

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