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Complementary X-ray tomography techniques for histology-validated 3D imaging of soft and hard tissues using plaque-containing blood vessels as examples.

A key problem in X-ray computed tomography is choosing photon energies for postmortem specimens containing both soft and hard tissues. Increasing X-ray energy reduces image artifacts from highly absorbing hard tissues including plaque, but it simultaneously decreases contrast in soft tissues including the endothelium. Therefore, identifying the lumen within plaque-containing vessels is challenging. Destructive histology, the gold standard for tissue evaluation, reaches submicron resolution in two dimensions, whereas slice thickness limits spatial resolution in the third. We present a protocol to systematically analyze heterogeneous tissues containing weakly and highly absorbing components in the original wet state, postmortem. Taking the example of atherosclerotic human coronary arteries, the successively acquired 3D data of benchtop and synchrotron radiation–based tomography are validated by histology. The entire protocol requires ∼20 working days, enables differentiation between plaque, muscle and fat tissues without using contrast agents and permits blood flow simulations in vessels with plaque-induced constrictions.

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M. N. Holme, G. Schulz, H. Deyhle, T. Weitkamp, F. Beckmann, J. A. Lobrinus, F. Rikhtegar, V. Kurtcuoglu, I. Zanette, T. Saxer, B. Müller Nature Protocols, 9, 1401 - 1415 (2014). doi: 10.1038/nprot.2014.091