Small-animal CT: Its difference from, and impact on, clinical CT

Erik L. Ritman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


For whole-body computed tomography (CT) images of small rodents, a voxel resolution of at least 10-3 mm3 is needed for scale-equivalence to that currently achieved in clinical CT scanners (∼1 mm3) in adult humans. These "mini-CT" images generally require minutes rather than seconds to complete a scan. The radiation exposure resulting from these mini-CT scans, while higher than clinical CT scans, is below the level resulting in acute tissue damage. Hence, these scans are useful for performing clinical-type diagnostic and monitoring scans for animal models of disease and their response to treatment. "Micro-CT", with voxel size <10-5 mm3, has been useful for imaging isolated, intact organs at an almost cellular level of resolution. Micro-CT has the great advantage over traditional microscopic methods in that it generates detailed three-dimensional images in relatively large, opaque volumes such as an intact rodent heart or kidney. The radiation exposure needed in these scans results in acute tissue damage if used in living animals. Experience with micro-CT is contributing to exploration of new applications for clinical CT imaging by providing insights into different modes of X-ray image formation as follows:(1)Spatial resolution should be sufficient to detect an individual Basic Functional Unit (BFU, the smallest collection of diverse cells, such as hepatic lobule, that behaves like the organ), which requires voxels ∼10-3 mm3 in volume, so that the BFUs can be counted.(2)Contrast resolution sufficient to allow quantitation of:(a)New microvascular growth, which manifests as increased tissue contrast due to X-ray contrast agent in those vessels' lumens during passage of injected contrast agent in blood.(b)Impaired endothelial integrity which manifests as increased opacification and delayed washout of contrast from tissues.(c)Discrimination of pathological accumulations of metals such as Fe and Ca, which occur in the arterial wall following hemorrhage or tissue damage.(3)Micro-CT can also be used as a test bed for exploring the utility of several modes of X-ray image formation, such as the use of dual-energy X-ray subtraction, X-ray scatter, phase delay and refraction-based imaging for increasing the contrast amongst soft tissue components. With the recent commercial availability of high speed, multi-slice CT scanners which can be operated in dual-energy mode, some of these micro-CT scanner capabilities and insights are becoming implementable in those CT scanners. As a result, the potential diagnostic spectrum that can be addressed with those scanners is broadened considerably.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)968-970
Number of pages3
JournalNuclear Instruments and Methods in Physics Research, Section A: Accelerators, Spectrometers, Detectors and Associated Equipment
Issue number2
StatePublished - Oct 1 2007


  • Contrast agents
  • Small animal
  • Synchrotron
  • Three-dimensional
  • X-ray

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Nuclear and High Energy Physics
  • Instrumentation


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