Theranostics 2018; 8(8):2117-2133. doi:10.7150/thno.22610

Research Paper

3D Imaging and Quantitative Analysis of Vascular Networks: A Comparison of Ultramicroscopy and Micro-Computed Tomography

Jeremy Epah1, Katalin Pálfi1, Franziska Luise Dienst1, Pedro Felipe Malacarne1, Rolf Bremer2, Michael Salamon3, Sandeep Kumar4, Hanjoong Jo4, Christoph Schürmann1,5,✉, Ralf Peter Brandes1,5✉

1. Institut für Kardiovaskuläre Physiologie, Fachbereich Medizin der Goethe-Universität, Theodor-Stern-Kai 7, D-60590 Frankfurt am Main, Germany
2. HBB Datenkommunikation & Abrechnungssysteme, Hannover, Germany
3. Fraunhofer-Institut für Integrierte Schaltungen IIS, Fürth, Germany
4. Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology and Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia, United States of America
5. German Center for Cardiovascular Research (DZHK), Partner site RheinMain, Frankfurt, Germany


Rationale: Classic histology is the gold standard for vascular network imaging and analysis. The method however is laborious and prone to artefacts. Here, the suitability of ultramicroscopy (UM) and micro-computed tomography (CT) was studied to establish potential alternatives to histology.

Methods: The vasculature of murine organs (kidney, heart and atherosclerotic carotid arteries) was visualized using conventional 2D microscopy, 3D light sheet ultramicroscopy (UM) and micro-CT. Moreover, spheroid-based human endothelial cell vessel formation in mice was quantified. Fluorescently labeled Isolectin GS-IB4 A647 was used for in vivo labeling of vasculature for UM analysis, and analyses were performed ex vivo after sample preparation. For CT imaging, animals were perfused postmortem with radiopaque contrast agent.

Results: Using UM imaging, 3D vascular network information could be obtained in samples of animals receiving in vivo injection of the fluorescently labeled Isolectin GS-IB4. Resolution was sufficient to measure single endothelial cell integration into capillaries in the spheroid-based matrigel plug assay. Because of the selective staining of the endothelium, imaging of larger vessels yielded less favorable results. Using micro-CT or even nano-CT, imaging of capillaries was impossible due to insufficient X-ray absorption and thus insufficient signal-to-noise ratio. Identification of lumen in murine arteries using micro-CT was in contrast superior to UM.

Conclusion: UM and micro-CT are two complementary techniques. Whereas UM is ideal for imaging and especially quantifying capillary networks and arterioles, larger vascular structures are easier and faster to quantify and visualize using micro-CT. 3D information of both techniques is superior to 2D histology. UM and micro-CT together may open a new field of clinical pathology diagnosis.

Keywords: Ultra microscopy, Light sheet fluorescence microscopy, Micro-CT

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How to cite this article:
Epah J, Pálfi K, Dienst FL, Malacarne PF, Bremer R, Salamon M, Kumar S, Jo H, Schürmann C, Brandes RP. 3D Imaging and Quantitative Analysis of Vascular Networks: A Comparison of Ultramicroscopy and Micro-Computed Tomography. Theranostics 2018; 8(8):2117-2133. doi:10.7150/thno.22610. Available from