Value of Formalin Fixation for the Prolonged Preservation of Rodent Myocardial Microanatomical Organization: Evidence by MR Diffusion Tensor Imaging

Anat Rec (Hoboken). 2016 Jul;299(7):878-87. doi: 10.1002/ar.23359. Epub 2016 May 10.


Previous ex vivo diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) studies on formalin-fixed myocardial tissue assumed that, after some initial changes in the first 48 hr since the start of fixation, DTI parameters remain stable over time. Prolonged preservation of cardiac tissue in formalin prior to imaging has been seen many times in the DTI literature as it is considered orderly. Our objective is to define the effects of the prolonged cardiac tissue exposure to formalin on tissue microanatomical organization, as this is assessed by DTI parameters. DTI experiments were conducted on eight excised rodent hearts that were fixed by immersion in formalin. The samples were randomly divided into two equinumerous groups corresponding to shorter (∼2 weeks) and more prolonged (∼6-8 weeks) durations of tissue exposure to formalin prior to imaging. We found that when the duration of cardiac tissue exposure to formalin before imaging increased, water diffusion became less restricted, helix angle (HA) histograms flattened out and exhibited heavier tails (even though the classic HA transmural variation was preserved), and a significant loss of inter-voxel primary diffusion orientation integrity was introduced. The prolonged preservation of cardiac tissue in formalin profoundly affected its microstructural organization, as this was assessed by DTI parameters. The accurate interpretation of diffusivity profiles necessitates awareness of the pitfalls of prolonged cardiac tissue exposure duration to formalin. The acquired knowledge works to the advantage of a proper experimental design of DTI studies of fixed hearts. Anat Rec, 299:878-887, 2016. © 2016 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Keywords: diffusion anisotropy; diffusivity; fixation; formalin; helix angle; inter-voxel diffusion coherence; magnetic resonance diffusion tensor imaging; rat myocardial microanatomy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anisotropy
  • Diffusion Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Formaldehyde / chemistry*
  • Male
  • Myocardium / pathology*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Tissue Fixation / methods*
  • Tissue Preservation / methods*


  • Formaldehyde