The inability to visualize airway smooth muscle (ASM) cells in vivo is a major obstacle in understanding their role in normal physiology and diseases. At present, there is no imaging modality available to assess ASM in vivo. Confocal endomicroscopy lacks the penetration depth and field of view, and conventional optical coherence tomography (OCT) does not have sufficient contrast to differentiate ASM from surrounding tissues. We have developed a birefringence microscopy platform that leverages the micro-organization of tissue to add further dimension to traditional OCT. We have used this technology to validate ASM measurements in ex vivo swine and canine studies, visualize and characterize volumetric representations of ASM in vivo, and quantify and predict ASM contractile force as a function of optical retardation. We provide in vivo images and volumetric assessments of ASM in living humans and document structural disease variations in subjects with mild asthma. The opportunity to link inflammatory responses to ASM responses and to link ASM responses to clinical responses and outcomes could lead to an increased understanding of diseases of the airway and, ultimately, to improved patient outcomes.
Copyright © 2016, American Association for the Advancement of Science.