Three-dimensional imaging of nerve tissue by x-ray phase-contrast microtomography

Biophys J. 1999 Jan;76(1 Pt 1):98-102. doi: 10.1016/S0006-3495(99)77181-X.


We show that promising information about the three-dimensional (3D) structure of a peripheral nerve can be obtained by x-ray phase-contrast microtomography (p-microCT; Beckmann, F., U. Bonse, F. Busch, and O. Günnewig, 1997. J. Comp. Assist. Tomogr. 21:539-553). P-microCT measures electronic charge density, which for most substances is proportional to mass density in fairly good approximation. The true point-by-point variation of density is thus determined in 3D at presently 1 mg/cm3 standard error (SE). The intracranial part of the rat trigeminal nerve analyzed for the presence of early schwannoma "microtumors" displayed a detailed density structure on p-microCT density maps. The average density of brain and nerve tissue was measured to range from 0.990 to 0.994 g/cm3 and from 1.020 to 1.035 g/cm3, respectively. The brain-nerve interface was well delineated. Within the nerve tissue, a pattern of nerve fibers could be seen that followed the nerve axis and contrasted against the bulk by 7 to 10 mg/cm3 density modulation. Based on the fact that regions of tumor growth have an increased number density of cell nuclei, and hence of the higher z element phosphorus, it may become possible to detect very early neural "microtumors" through increases of average density on the order of 10 to 15 mg/cm3 by using this method.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biophysical Phenomena
  • Biophysics
  • Carcinogens / toxicity
  • Ethylnitrosourea / toxicity
  • Neurilemmoma / chemically induced
  • Neurilemmoma / diagnostic imaging
  • Peripheral Nervous System Neoplasms / chemically induced
  • Peripheral Nervous System Neoplasms / diagnostic imaging
  • Rats
  • Tomography, X-Ray / instrumentation
  • Tomography, X-Ray / methods*
  • Trigeminal Nerve / diagnostic imaging*


  • Carcinogens
  • Ethylnitrosourea