Figley SA, Chen Y, Maeda A, Conroy L, McMullen JD, Silver JI, Stapleton S, Vitkin A, Zadeh G, Burrell K, Fehlings MG, DaCosta RS. PLoS One. 2013;8(3):e58081
In vivo and direct imaging of the murine spinal cord and its vasculature using multimodal (optical and acoustic) imaging techniques could significantly advance preclinical studies of the spinal cord. Such intrinsically high resolution and complementary imaging technologies could provide a powerful means of quantitatively monitoring changes in anatomy, structure, physiology and function of the living cord over time after traumatic injury, onset of disease, or therapeutic intervention. However, longitudinal in vivo imaging of the intact spinal cord in rodent models has been challenging, requiring repeated surgeries to expose the cord for imaging or sacrifice of animals at various time points for ex vivo tissue analysis. To address these limitations, we have developed an implantable spinal cord window chamber (SCWC) device and procedures in mice for repeated multimodal intravital microscopic imaging of the cord and its vasculature in situ. We present methodology for using our SCWC to achieve spatially co-registered optical-acoustic imaging performed serially for up to four weeks, without damaging the cord or induction of locomotor deficits in implanted animals. To demonstrate the feasibility, we used the SCWC model to study the response of the normal spinal cord vasculature to ionizing radiation over time using white light and fluorescence microscopy combined with optical coherence tomography (OCT) in vivo. In vivo power Doppler ultrasound and photoacoustics were used to directly visualize the cord and vascular structures and to measure hemoglobin oxygen saturation through the complete spinal cord, respectively. The model was also used for intravital imaging of spinal micrometastases resulting from primary brain tumor using fluorescence and bioluminescence imaging. Our SCWC model overcomes previous in vivo imaging challenges, and our data provide evidence of the broader utility of hybridized optical-acoustic imaging methods for obtaining multiparametric and rich imaging data sets, including over extended periods, for preclinical in vivo spinal cord research.