Functionalized computed tomography (CT) in combination with labelled cells is virtually non-existent due to the limited sensitivity of X-ray-absorption-based imaging, but would be highly desirable to realise cell tracking studies in entire organisms. In this study we applied in-line free propagation X-ray phase-contrast CT (XPCT) in an allergic asthma mouse model to assess structural changes as well as the biodistribution of barium-labelled macrophages in lung tissue. Alveolar macrophages that were barium-sulfate-loaded and fluorescent-labelled were instilled intratracheally into asthmatic and control mice. Mice were sacrificed after 24 h, lungs were kept in situ, inflated with air and scanned utilizing XPCT at the SYRMEP beamline (Elettra Synchrotron Light Source, Italy). Single-distance phase retrieval was used to generate data sets with ten times greater contrast-to-noise ratio than absorption-based CT (in our setup), thus allowing to depict and quantify structural hallmarks of asthmatic lungs such as reduced air volume, obstruction of airways and increased soft-tissue content. Furthermore, we found a higher concentration as well as a specific accumulation of the barium-labelled macrophages in asthmatic lung tissue. It is believe that XPCT will be beneficial in preclinical asthma research for both the assessment of therapeutic response as well as the analysis of the role of the recruitment of macrophages to inflammatory sites.
Keywords: functional CT imaging; phase-contrast CT; single-distance phase retrieval.