The interactive presentation of 3D information obtained from reconstructed datasets and 3D placement of single histological sections with the 3D portable document format

Development. 2011 Jan;138(1):159-67. doi: 10.1242/dev.051086.


Interpretation of the results of anatomical and embryological studies relies heavily on proper visualization of complex morphogenetic processes and patterns of gene expression in a three-dimensional (3D) context. However, reconstruction of complete 3D datasets is time consuming and often researchers study only a few sections. To help in understanding the resulting 2D data we developed a program (TRACTS) that places such arbitrary histological sections into a high-resolution 3D model of the developing heart. The program places sections correctly, robustly and as precisely as the best of the fits achieved by five morphology experts. Dissemination of 3D data is severely hampered by the 2D medium of print publication. Many insights gained from studying the 3D object are very hard to convey using 2D images and are consequently lost or cannot be verified independently. It is possible to embed 3D objects into a pdf document, which is a format widely used for the distribution of scientific papers. Using the freeware program Adobe Reader to interact with these 3D objects is reasonably straightforward; creating such objects is not. We have developed a protocol that describes, step by step, how 3D objects can be embedded into a pdf document. Both the use of TRACTS and the inclusion of 3D objects in pdf documents can help in the interpretation of 2D and 3D data, and will thus optimize communication on morphological issues in developmental biology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Databases, Factual
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted / methods*
  • Imaging, Three-Dimensional / methods*
  • Software