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Circulation. 1996 Mar 15;93(6):1206-13.

Optical coherence tomography for optical biopsy. Properties and demonstration of vascular pathology.

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Cardiac Unit, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston 02139, USA.



Optical coherence tomography (OCT) is an recently developed medical diagnostic technology that uses back-reflected infrared light to perform in situ micron scale tomographic imaging. In this work, we investigate the ability of OCT to perform micron scale tomographic imaging of the internal microstructure of in vitro atherosclerotic plaques.


Aorta and relevant nonvascular tissue were obtained at autopsy. Two-dimensional cross-sectional imaging of the exposed surface of the arterial segments was performed in vitro with OCT. A 1300-nm wavelength, superluminescent diode light source was used that allows an axial spatial resolution of 20 microns. The signal-to-noise ratio was 109 dB. Images were displayed in gray scale or false color, Imaging was performed over 1.5 mm into heavily calcified tissue, and a high contrast was noted between lipid- and water-based constituents, making OCT attractive for intracoronary imaging. The 20-microns axial resolution of OCT allowed small structural details such as the width of intimal caps and the presence of fissures to be determined. The extent of lipid collections, which had a low backscattering intensity, also were well documented.


OCT represents a promising new technology for imaging vascular microstructure with a level of resolution not previously achieved with the use of other imaging modalities. It does not required direct contact with the vessel wall and can be performed with a catheter integrated with a relatively inexpensive optical fiber. The high contrast among tissue constituents, high resolution, and ability to penetrate heavily calcified tissue make OCT an attractive new imaging technology for intracoronary diagnostics.

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