Depth-resolved birefringence imaging of collagen fiber organization in the human oral mucosa in vivo

Biomed Opt Express. 2019 Mar 22;10(4):1942-1956. doi: 10.1364/BOE.10.001942. eCollection 2019 Apr 1.


Stromal collagen organization has been identified as a potential prognostic indicator in a variety of cancers and other diseases accompanied by fibrosis. Changes in the connective tissue are increasingly considered for grading dysplasia and progress of oral squamous cell carcinoma, investigated mainly ex vivo by histopathology. In this study, polarization-sensitive optical coherence tomography (PS-OCT) with local phase retardation imaging is used for the first time to visualize depth-resolved (i.e., local) birefringence of healthy human oral mucosa in vivo. Depth-resolved birefringence is shown to reveal the expected local collagen organization. To demonstrate proof-of-principle, 3D image stacks were acquired at labial and lingual locations of the oral mucosa, chosen as those most commonly affected by cancerous alterations. To enable an intuitive evaluation of the birefringence images suitable for clinical application, color depth-encoded en-face projections were generated. Compared to en-face views of intensity or conventional cumulative phase retardation, we show that this novel approach offers improved visualization of the mucosal connective tissue layer in general, and reveals the collagen fiber architecture in particular. This study provides the basis for future prospective pathological and comparative in vivo studies non-invasively assessing stromal changes in conspicuous and cancerous oral lesions at different stages.