Whole heart detailed and quantitative anatomy, myofibre structure and vasculature from X-ray phase-contrast synchrotron radiation-based micro computed tomography

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BackgroundWhile individual cardiac myocytes only have a limited ability to shorten, the heart efficiently pumps a large volume-fraction thanks to a cell organization in a complex 3D fibre structure. Subclinical subtle cardiac structural remodelling is often present before symptoms arise. Understanding and early detection of these subtle changes is crucial for diagnosis and prevention. Additionally, personalized computational modelling requires knowledge on the multi-scale structure of the whole heart and vessels.Methods and ResultsWe developed a rapid acquisition together with visualization and quantification methods of the integrated microstructure of whole in-vitro rodents hearts using synchrotron based X-ray phase-contrast tomography. These images are formed not only by X-ray absorption by the tissue but also by wave propagation phenomena, enhancing structural information, thus allowing to raise tissue contrast to an unprecedented level. We used a (ex-vivo) normal rat heart and fetal rabbit hearts suffering intrauterine growth restriction as a model of subclinical cardiac remodelling to illustrate the strengths and potential of the technique. For comparison, histology and diffusion tensor magnetic resonance imaging was performed.ConclusionsWe have developed a novel, high resolution, image acquisition, and quantification approach to study a whole in-vitro heart at myofibre resolution, providing integrated 3D structural information at microscopic level without any need of tissue slicing and processing. This superior imaging approach opens up new possibilities for a systems approach towards analysing cardiac structure and function, providing rapid acquisition of quantitative microstructure of the heart in a near native state.

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