Synchrotron- and laboratory-based X-ray phase-contrast imaging for imaging mouse articular cartilage in the absence of radiopaque contrast agents.
Marenzana M., Hagen CK., Borges PD., Endrizzi M., Szafraniec MB., Vincent TL., Rigon L., Arfelli F., Menk RH., Olivo A.
The mouse model of osteoarthritis (OA) has been recognized as the most promising research tool for the identification of new OA therapeutic targets. However, this model is currently limited by poor throughput, dependent on the extremely time-consuming histopathology assessment of the articular cartilage (AC). We have recently shown that AC in the rat tibia can be imaged both in air and in saline solution using a laboratory system based on coded-aperture X-ray phase-contrast imaging (CAXPCi). Here, we explore ways to extend the methodology for imaging the much thinner AC of the mouse, by means of gold-standard synchrotron-based phase-contrast methods. Specifically, we have used analyser-based phase-contrast micro-computed tomography (micro-CT) for its high sensitivity to faint phase changes, coupled with a high-resolution (4.5 μm pixel) detector. Healthy, diseased (four weeks post induction of OA) and artificially damaged mouse AC was imaged at the Elettra synchrotron in Trieste, Italy, using the above method. For validation, we used conventional micro-CT combined with radiopaque soft-tissue staining and standard histomorphometry. We show that mouse cartilage can be visualized correctly by means of the synchrotron method. This suggests that: (i) further developments of the laboratory-based CAXPCi system, especially in terms of pushing the resolution limits, might have the potential to resolve mouse AC ex vivo and (ii) additional improvements may lead to a new generation of CAXPCi micro-CT scanners which could be used for in vivo longitudinal pre-clinical imaging of soft tissue at resolutions impossible to achieve by current MRI technology.