A novel technique for the contrast-enhanced microCT imaging of murine intervertebral discs

Kevin H. Lin, Qi Wu, Daniel J. Leib, Simon Y. Tang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Disc degeneration is one of the leading factors that contribute to low back pain. Thus, the further understanding of the mechanisms contributing to degeneration of the intervertebral disc degeneration is critical for the development of therapies and strategies for treating low back pain. Rodent models are attractive for conducting mechanistic studies particularly because of the availability of genetically modified animals. However, current imaging technologies such as magnetic resonance imaging, do not have the ability to resolve spatial features at the tens- to single- micrometer scale. We propose here a contrast-enhanced microCT technique to conduct high-resolution imaging of the rodent intervertebral discs at 10 μm spatial resolution. Based on the iodinated-hydrophilic contrast agent Ioversol, we are able to conduct high resolution imaging on rat and mouse intervertebral discs. Leveraging the hydrophilic characteristic of the contrast agent, we are able to discriminate the annulus fibrosus from the water-rich nucleus pulposus. Moreover, this technique allows for the quantitative measurement of disc morphologies and volumes, and we demonstrate the versatility of this technique on cultured live intervertebral discs. Coupled with our semi-automated segmentation technique, we are able to quantify the intervertebral disc volumes with a high degree of reproducibility. The contrast-enhanced microCT images were qualitatively and quantitatively indistinguishable from the traditional histological assessment of the same sample. Furthermore, stereological measures compared well between histology and microCT images. Taken together, the results reveal that rat and mouse intervertebral discs can be imaged longitudinally in vitro at high resolutions, with no adverse effects on viability and features of the intervertebral disc.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)66-74
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of the Mechanical Behavior of Biomedical Materials
StatePublished - Oct 1 2016


  • Contrast-enhanced MicroCT
  • Disc degeneration
  • Intervertebral disc
  • Ioversol


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