Introduction. The murine model is a well-established surrogate for studying human cranial suture biology. In mice, all sutures with the exception of the posterior frontal (PF) suture remain patent throughout life. Histology is regarded as the gold standard for analyzing sutures. On this basis, PF suture fusion begins on day of life 25 and is complete by day 45. Cranial suture histology, however, requires sacrifice of the animal to obtain tissue for analysis. As a result, knowledge of the kinetics of cranial suture fusion is based on a patchwork analysis of many sutures from many different animals. The behavior of a single suture through time is unknown. Our goal is to develop a noninvasive means to repeatedly image mouse cranial sutures in vivo. As a first step, the present study was performed to evaluate microfocal computer tomography (micro-CT) technology for the use of capturing images of a mouse cranium in situ. Methods. The micro-CT system consists of a microfocal X-ray source and a large format CCD camera optically coupled to a high-resolution X-ray image intensifier, digitally linked to a computer. The PF and sagittal sutures lie in continuity along the midline of the skull. Holes were drilled in the calvaria on both sides of the PF and sagittal sutures of a 45-day-old euthanized mouse. A micro-CT scan of this animal was performed and hundreds of cross-sectional images were generated for the cranium. These images were used to reconstruct three-dimensional volumetric images of the entire cranium. Comparisons were made between (1) the gross specimen and the three dimensional reconstructions; (2) two-dimensional coronal images obtained by micro-CT and those obtained by histology. Results. Analysis of PF and sagittal sutures demonstrated the following: (1) The drilled holes were accurately rendered by micro-CT, when compared to both the gross specimen and the histology. (2) The sagittal suture was found to be patent by both micro-CT and histology. (3) The PF suture is fused by histology, but unexpectedly, the PF suture appears incompletely fused by micro-CT. By micro-CT, however, the anterior and endocranial regions appear more extensively fused than the remainder of the PF suture, a finding consistent with published histologic analysis. Conclusions. We successfully imaged 45-day-old mouse cranial sutures in situ using micro-CT technology. Precise correlation between histologic sections and radiologic images is difficult, but convincing similarities exist between the gross specimen and images from micro-CT and histology. PF suture fusion in a 45-day-old animal appears different by micro-CT than by histology. One possible explanation for this apparent discrepancy is that suture fusion in histology is determined based on the appearance of bone morphology and not tissue density, as the specimens are necessarily decalcified to section the bone. Micro-CT, on the other hand, distinguishes tissues on the basis of density. Newly forming bone may require bone matrix formation prior to complete calcification; PF suture in 45-day-old mice may be morphologically complete but incompletely ossified. Studies correlating histologic and micro-CT assessment of suture development are underway. Micro-CT appears to be a promising method for noninvasive imaging of mouse cranial suture.
- Cranial sutures
- Microfocal computer tomography
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