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Combination of µCT and light microscopy for generation-specific stereological analysis of pulmonary arterial branches: a proof-of-concept study

Various lung diseases, including pulmonary hypertension, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or bronchopulmonary dysplasia, are associated with structural and architectural alterations of the pulmonary vasculature. The light microscopic (LM) analysis of the blood vessels is limited by the fact that it is impossible to identify which generation of the arterial tree an arterial profile within a LM microscopic section belongs to. Therefore, we established a workflow that allows for the generation-specific quantitative (stereological) analysis of pulmonary blood vessels. A whole left rabbit lung was fixed by vascular perfusion, embedded in glycol methacrylate and imaged by micro-computed tomography (µCT). The lung was then exhaustively sectioned and 20 consecutive sections were collected every 100 µm to obtain a systematic uniform random sample of the whole lung. The digital processing involved segmentation of the arterial tree, generation analysis, registration of LM sections with the µCT data as well as registration of the segmentation and the LM images. The present study demonstrates that it is feasible to identify arterial profiles according to their generation based on a generation-specific color code. Stereological analysis for the first three arterial generations of the monopodial branching of the vasculature included volume fraction, total volume, lumen-to-wall ratio and wall thickness for each arterial generation. In conclusion, the correlative image analysis of µCT and LM-based datasets is an innovative method to assess the pulmonary vasculature quantitatively.

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