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Three-dimensional visualisation of soft biological structures by X-ray computed micro-tomography.

Shearer, T and Bradley, RS and Hidalgo-Bastida, LA and Sherratt, MJ and Cartmell, SH (2016) Three-dimensional visualisation of soft biological structures by X-ray computed micro-tomography. Journal of Cell Science.

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Abstract

Whereas the two-dimensional (2D) visualisation of biological samples is routine, three-dimensional (3D) imaging remains a time-consuming and relatively specialised pursuit. Current commonly adopted techniques for characterising the 3D structure of non-calcified tissues and biomaterials include optical and electron microscopy of serial sections and sectioned block faces, and the visualisation of intact samples by confocal microscopy or electron tomography. As an alternative to these approaches, X-ray computed micro-tomography (microCT) can both rapidly image the internal 3D structure of macroscopic volumes at sub-micron resolutions and visualise dynamic changes in living tissues at a microsecond scale. In this Commentary, we discuss the history and current capabilities of microCT. To that end, we present four case studies to illustrate the ability of microCT to visualise and quantify: (1) pressure-induced changes in the internal structure of unstained rat arteries, (2) the differential morphology of stained collagen fascicles in tendon and ligament, (3) the development of Vanessa cardui chrysalises, and (4) the distribution of cells within a tissue-engineering construct. Future developments in detector design and the use of synchrotron X-ray sources might enable real-time 3D imaging of dynamically remodelling biological samples.

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