Noninvasive Quantitative Imaging of Collagen Microstructure in Three-Dimensional Hydrogels Using High-Frequency Ultrasound

Tissue Eng Part C Methods. 2015 Jul;21(7):671-82. doi: 10.1089/ten.TEC.2014.0527. Epub 2015 Mar 12.


Collagen I is widely used as a natural component of biomaterials for both tissue engineering and regenerative medicine applications. The physical and biological properties of fibrillar collagens are strongly tied to variations in collagen fiber microstructure. The goal of this study was to develop the use of high-frequency quantitative ultrasound to assess collagen microstructure within three-dimensional (3D) hydrogels noninvasively and nondestructively. The integrated backscatter coefficient (IBC) was employed as a quantitative ultrasound parameter to detect, image, and quantify spatial variations in collagen fiber density and diameter. Collagen fiber microstructure was varied by fabricating hydrogels with different collagen concentrations or polymerization temperatures. IBC values were computed from measurements of the backscattered radio-frequency ultrasound signals collected using a single-element transducer (38-MHz center frequency, 13-47 MHz bandwidth). The IBC increased linearly with increasing collagen concentration and decreasing polymerization temperature. Parametric 3D images of the IBC were generated to visualize and quantify regional variations in collagen microstructure throughout the volume of hydrogels fabricated in standard tissue culture plates. IBC parametric images of corresponding cell-embedded collagen gels showed cell accumulation within regions having elevated collagen IBC values. The capability of this ultrasound technique to noninvasively detect and quantify spatial differences in collagen microstructure offers a valuable tool to monitor the structural properties of collagen scaffolds during fabrication, to detect functional differences in collagen microstructure, and to guide fundamental research on the interactions of cells and collagen matrices.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Collagen / chemistry
  • Collagen / ultrastructure*
  • Hydrogels / chemistry*
  • Imaging, Three-Dimensional
  • Protein Conformation
  • Ultrasonics*


  • Hydrogels
  • Collagen