The alveolar capillary network (ACN) provides an enormously large surface area that is necessary for pulmonary gas exchange. Changes of the ACN during normal or pathological development or in pulmonary diseases are of great functional impact and warrant further analysis. Due to the complexity of the three-dimensional (3D) architecture of the ACN, 2D approaches are limited in providing a comprehensive impression of the characteristics of the normal ACN or the nature of its alterations. Stereological methods offer a quantitative way to assess the ACN in 3D in terms of capillary volume, surface area or number but lack a 3D visualization to interpret the data. Hence, the necessity to visualize the ACN in 3D and to correlate this with data from the same set of data arises. Such an approach requires a large sample volume combined with a high resolution. Here, we present a technically simple and cost efficient approach to create 3D representations of lung tissue ranging from bronchioles over alveolar ducts and alveoli up to the ACN from more than 1mm sample extent to a resolution of less than 1µm. The method is based on automated image acquisition of serially sectioned epoxy resin embedded lung tissue fixed by vascular perfusion and subsequent automated digital reconstruction and analysis of the 3D data. This efficient method may help to better understand mechanisms of vascular development and pathology of the lung.
- alveolar capillary network (ACN)
- stacked histological slices
- 3D reconstruction
- virtual endoscopy
- Copyright © 2016, American Journal of Physiology-Lung Cellular and Molecular Physiology