Quantification of smooth muscle in human airways by polarization-sensitive optical coherence tomography requires correction for perichondrium

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Quantifying airway smooth muscle (ASM) in patients with asthma raises the possibility of improved and personalized disease management. Endobronchial polarization-sensitive optical coherence tomography (PS-OCT) is a promising quantitative imaging approach that is in the early stages of clinical translation. To date, only animal tissues have been used to assess the accuracy of PS-OCT to quantify absolute (rather than relative) ASM in cross sections with directly matched histological cross sections as validation. We report the use of whole fresh human and pig airways to perform a detailed side-by-side qualitative and quantitative validation of PS-OCT against gold-standard histology. We matched and quantified 120 sections from five human and seven pig (small and large) airways and linked PS-OCT signatures of ASM to the tissue structural appearance in histology. Notably, we found that human cartilage perichondrium can share with ASM the properties of birefringence and circumferential alignment of fibers, making it a significant confounder for ASM detection. Measurements not corrected for perichondrium overestimated ASM content several-fold (P < 0.001, paired t test). After careful exclusion of perichondrium, we found a strong positive correlation (r = 0.96, P < 0.00001) of ASM area measured by PS-OCT and histology, supporting the method's application in human subjects. Matching human histology further indicated that PS-OCT allows conclusions on the intralayer composition and in turn potential contractile capacity of ASM bands. Together these results form a reliable basis for future clinical studies.NEW & NOTEWORTHY Polarization-sensitive optical coherence tomography (PS-OCT) may facilitate in vivo measurement of airway smooth muscle (ASM). We present a quantitative validation correlating absolute ASM area from PS-OCT to directly matched histological cross sections using human tissue. A major confounder for ASM quantification was observed and resolved: fibrous perichondrium surrounding hyaline cartilage in human airways presents a PS-OCT signature similar to ASM for birefringence and optic axis orientation. Findings impact the development of automated methods for ASM segmentation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)L393-L408
Number of pages16
JournalAmerican journal of physiology. Lung cellular and molecular physiology
Issue number3
Early online date23 Jan 2024
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2024


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