Mucus transport is essential to remove inhaled particles and pathogens from the lung. Impaired removal of mucus often results in worsening of lung diseases. To understand the mechanisms of mucus transport and to monitor the impact of therapeutic strategies, it is essential to visualize airways and mucus in living animals without disturbing transport processes by intubation or surgically opening the airways.
We developed a custom-built optical coherence microscope (OCM) providing a lateral and axial resolution of approximately 1.5 µm with a field of view of 2 mm at up to 150 images/s. Images of the intact trachea and its mucus transport were recorded in anesthetized spontaneously breathing mice. NaCl solution (0.9% and 7%) or Lipopolysaccharide were applied intranasally.
OCM resolved detailed structure of the trachea and enabled measuring the airway surface liquid (ASL) thickness through the tracheal wall. Without stimulation, the amount of ASL was only a few µm above the epithelium and remained constant. After intranasal application of 30 µl saline at different concentrations, an early fast cough-like fluid removal with velocities higher than 1 mm/s was observed that removed a high amount of liquid. The ASL thickness increased transiently and quickly returned to levels before stimulation. In contrast to saline, application of Lipopolysaccharide induced substantial mucus release and an additional slow mucus transport by ciliary beating (around 100 µm/s) towards the larynx was observed.
In conclusion, OCM is appropriate unique tool to study mechanisms of mucus transport in the airways and effects of therapeutic interventions in living animals.
Mario Pieper, Hinnerk Schulz-Hildebrandt, Gereon Hüttmann, and Peter König, "Imaging of mucus clearance in the airways of living spontaneously breathing mice by optical coherence microscopy (Conference Presentation)," Proc. SPIE 9691, Endoscopic Microscopy XI; and Optical Techniques in Pulmonary Medicine III, 969116 (Presented at SPIE BiOS: February 13, 2016; Published: 27 April 2016); https://doi.org/10.1117/12.2209054.4828146963001.
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