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Horng, Annie; Stroebel, Johannes; Geith, Tobias; Milz, Stefan; Pacureanu, Alexandra; Yang, Yang; Cloetens, Peter; Lovric, Goran; Mittone, Alberto; Bravin, Alberto and Coan, Paola (2021): Multiscale X-ray phase contrast imaging of human cartilage for investigating osteoarthritis formation. In: Journal of Biomedical Science, Vol. 28, No. 1, 42

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Background The evolution of cartilage degeneration is still not fully understood, partly due to its thinness, low radio-opacity and therefore lack of adequately resolving imaging techniques. X-ray phase-contrast imaging (X-PCI) offers increased sensitivity with respect to standard radiography and CT allowing an enhanced visibility of adjoining, low density structures with an almost histological image resolution. This study examined the feasibility of X-PCI for high-resolution (sub-) micrometer analysis of different stages in tissue degeneration of human cartilage samples and compare it to histology and transmission electron microscopy. Methods Ten 10%-formalin preserved healthy and moderately degenerated osteochondral samples, post-mortem extracted from human knee joints, were examined using four different X-PCI tomographic set-ups using synchrotron radiation the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (France) and the Swiss Light Source (Switzerland). Volumetric datasets were acquired with voxel sizes between 0.7 x 0.7 x 0.7 and 0.1 x 0.1 x 0.1 mu m(3). Data were reconstructed by a filtered back-projection algorithm, post-processed by ImageJ, the WEKA machine learning pixel classification tool and VGStudio max. For correlation, osteochondral samples were processed for histology and transmission electron microscopy. Results X-PCI provides a three-dimensional visualization of healthy and moderately degenerated cartilage samples down to a (sub-)cellular level with good correlation to histologic and transmission electron microscopy images. X-PCI is able to resolve the three layers and the architectural organization of cartilage including changes in chondrocyte cell morphology, chondrocyte subgroup distribution and (re-)organization as well as its subtle matrix structures. Conclusions X-PCI captures comprehensive cartilage tissue transformation in its environment and might serve as a tissue-preserving, staining-free and volumetric virtual histology tool for examining and chronicling cartilage behavior in basic research/laboratory experiments of cartilage disease evolution.

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