Development of barium-based low viscosity contrast agents for micro CT vascular casting: Application to 3D visualization of the adult mouse cerebrovasculature

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


External Institution(s)

  • University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston
  • Bruker Corporation
  • University of Houston


Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)312-324
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Neuroscience Research
Issue number2
StatusPublished - Feb 1 2020


Recent advances in three-dimensional (3D) fluorescence microscopy offer the ability to image the entire vascular network in entire organs, or even whole animals. However, these imaging modalities rely on either endogenous fluorescent reporters or involved immunohistochemistry protocols, as well as optical clearing of the tissue and refractive index matching. Conversely, X-ray-based 3D imaging modalities, such as micro CT, can image non-transparent samples, at high resolution, without requiring complicated or expensive immunolabeling and clearing protocols, or fluorescent reporters. Here, we compared two “homemade” barium-based contrast agents to the field standard, lead-containing Microfil, for micro-computed tomography (micro CT) imaging of the adult mouse cerebrovasculature. The perfusion pressure required for uniform vessel filling was significantly lower with the barium-based contrast agents compared to the polymer-based Microfil. Accordingly, the barium agents showed no evidence of vascular distension or rupture, common problems associated with Microfil. Compellingly, perfusion of an aqueous BaCl2/gelatin mixture yielded equal or superior visualization of the cerebrovasculature by micro CT compared to Microfil. However, phosphate-containing buffers and fixatives were incompatible with BaCl2 due to the formation of unwanted precipitates. X-ray attenuation of the vessels also decreased overtime, as the BaCl2 appeared to gradually diffuse into surrounding tissues. A second, unique formulation composed of BaSO4 microparticles, generated in-house by mixing BaCl2 and MgSO4, suffered none of these drawbacks. These microparticles, however, were unable to pass small diameter capillary vessels, conveniently labeling only the arterial cerebrovasculature. In summary, we present an affordable, robust, low pressure, non-toxic, and straightforward methodology for 3D visualization of the cerebrovasculature.

    Research areas

  • brain, cerebral, micro CT, stroke, vasculature