Quantitative three-dimensional imaging of live avian embryonic morphogenesis via micro-computed tomography



Many clinically relevant congenital malformations arise during mid to late embryonic stages. This period is challenging to image quantitatively in live embryos, necessitating the use of multiple specimens with increased experimental variability. Here we establish X-ray and blood-pool computed tomography (CT) contrast agent toxicity and teratogenesis thresholds for 3D Micro-CT imaging of live avian embryos. Day 4 chick embryos micro-injected with Visipaque™ (VP) developed for an additional 6 days without defect. X-ray radiation up to 798 mGy was nontoxic. Peak average contrast of 1,060 HU occurred within 1 hr of imaging at 50 μm resolution. VP-enhanced contrast persisted past 24 hr with delayed accumulation in the allantois. Regional volumes of VP-injected embryos were statistically identical to those of fixed embryos perfused with osmium tetroxide. We further quantified longitudinal volumetric morphogenesis of the allantois over 30 hr. These results demonstrate the safety and efficacy of contrast enhanced quantitative micro-CT imaging for live embryos. Developmental Dynamics 240:1949–1957, 2011. © 2011 Wiley-Liss, Inc.