Three-dimensional visualisation of soft biological structures by X-ray computed micro-tomography

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Whereas the two-dimensional (2D) visualisation of biological
samples is routine, three-dimensional (3D) imaging remains a
time-consuming and relatively specialised pursuit. Current
commonly adopted techniques for characterising the 3D
structure of non-calcified tissues and biomaterials include optical
and electron microscopy of serial sections and sectioned block
faces, and the visualisation of intact samples by confocal
microscopy or electron tomography. As an alternative to these
approaches, X-ray computed micro-tomography (microCT) can
both rapidly image the internal 3D structure of macroscopic
volumes at sub-micron resolutions and visualise dynamic changes
in living tissues at a microsecond scale. In this Commentary, we
discuss the history and current capabilities of microCT. To that
end, we present four case studies to illust
rate the ab
ility of
microCT to visualise and quantify: (1) pressure-induced changes
in the internal structure of unstained rat arteries, (2) the differential
morphology of stained collagen fascicles in tendon and ligament,
(3) the development of
Vanessa cardui
chrysalises, and (4) the
distribution of cells within a tissue-engineering construct. Future
developments in detector design and the use of synchrotron X-ray
sources might enable real-time 3D imaging of dynamically
remodelling biological samples

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2483-2492
JournalJournal of Cell Science
Issue number13
Early online date8 Jun 2016
StatePublished - 2016