Phase-contrast x-ray tomography of neuronal tissue at laboratory sources with submicron resolution


Eckermann M, Topperwien M, Robisch AL, van der Meer F, Stadelmann C, Salditt T


Journal of Medical Imaging


J Med Imaging (Bellingham). 2020 Apr 30;124(17):3482-3493.


Purpose: Recently, progress has been achieved in implementing phase-contrast tomography of soft biological tissues at laboratory sources. This opens up opportunities for three-dimensional (3-D) histology based on x-ray computed tomography ( mu – and nanoCT) in the direct vicinity of hospitals and biomedical research institutions. Combining advanced x-ray generation and detection techniques with phase reconstruction algorithms, 3-D histology can be obtained even of unstained tissue of the central nervous system, as shown, for example, for biopsies and autopsies of human cerebellum. Depending on the setup, i.e., source, detector, and geometric parameters, laboratory-based tomography can be implemented at very different sizes and length scales. We investigate the extent to which 3-D histology of neuronal tissue can exploit the cone-beam geometry at high magnification M using a nanofocus transmission x-ray tube (nanotube) with a 300 nm minimal spot size (Excillum), combined with a single-photon counting camera. Tightly approaching the source spot with the biopsy punch, we achieve high M approximately 10 1 – 10 2 , high flux density, and exploit the superior efficiency of this detector technology. Approach: Different nanotube configurations such as spot size and flux, M , as well as exposure time, Fresnel number, and coherence are varied and selected in view of resolution, field of view, and/or phase-contrast requirements. Results: The data show that the information content for the cytoarchitecture is enhanced by the phase effect. Comparison of results to those obtained at a microfocus rotating-anode x-ray tomography setup with a high-resolution detector, i.e., in low- M geometry, reveals similar to slightly superior data quality for the nanotube setup. In addition to its compactness, reduced power consumption by a factor of 10 3 , and shorter scan duration, the particular advantage of the nanotube setup also lies in its suitability for pixel detector technology, enabling an increased range of opportunities for applications in laboratory phase-contrast x-ray tomography. Conclusions: The phase retrieval scheme utilized mixes amplitude and phase contrast, with results being robust with respect to reconstruction parameters. Structural information content is comparable to slightly superior to previous results achieved with a microfocus rotating-anode setup but can be obtained in shorter scan time. Beyond advantages as compactness, lowered power consumption, and flexibility, the nanotube setup’s scalability in view of the progress in pixel detector technology is particularly beneficial. Further progress is thus likely to bring 3-D virtual histology to the performance in scan time and throughput required for clinical practice in neuropathology.


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