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J Anat. 1998 Oct;193 ( Pt 3):323-36.

Computer-generated three-dimensional reconstructions of serially sectioned mouse embryos.

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1
Department of Anatomy, University Medical School, Edinburgh, UK.

Abstract

We have been involved with a group of computer scientists and anatomists in the development of computer-based methodologies that not only combine the advantages of scanning electron microscopy and conventional histology, but provide the additional dimension of tissue recognition. The latter is achieved by the appropriate labelling of tissues and structures by delineation or 'painting'. Individually segmented anatomically defined tissues can be highlighted in a particular colour and viewed either in isolation or in combination with other appropriately labelled tissues and organs. Tissues can be shown in any orientation either as a transparent overlay on computer-generated histological sections or as 3-D images without the histological background. An additional feature of the system is that computer graphics technology combined with 3-D glasses now also allows the viewer to see the object under analysis in stereo. This facility has been found to be particularly helpful in drawing attention to topological relationships that had not previously been readily noted. As the mouse is now the mammalian model of choice in many areas of developmental research, it is of critical importance that a basic level of skill is available in the research community in the interpretation of serially sectioned material, for example, for the rapidly expanding field in which gene expression studies play a significant role. It is equally important that there is an understanding of the dynamic changes that occur in relation to the differentiation of the various organ systems seen in these early stages of development. What we emphasise here is the additional information that it is possible to gain from the use of this tool which, in our view, could not readily have been gained from the analysis of scanning electron micrographs or by studying conventional serial histological sections of similar stages of mouse embryonic development. The methodology has been developed as part of a large project to prepare a database of mouse developmental anatomy covering all stages from fertilisation to birth in order to allow the accurate spatial mapping of gene expression and cell lineage data onto the digital Atlas of normal mouse development. In this paper we show how this digital anatomical Atlas also represents a valuable teaching aid and research tool in anatomy.

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