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Airway surface liquid depth imaged by surface laser reflectance microscopy


The thin layer of liquid at the surface of airway epithelium, the airway surface liquid (ASL), is important in normal airway physiology and in the pathophysiology of cystic fibrosis. At present, the best method to measure ASL depth involves scanning confocal microscopy after staining with an aqueous-phase fluorescent dye. We describe here a simple, noninvasive imaging method to measure ASL depth by reflectance imaging of an epithelial mucosa in which the surface is illuminated at a 45-degree angle by an elongated 13-microm wide rectangular beam produced by a 670-nm micro-focus laser. The principle of the method is that air-liquid, liquid-liquid, and liquid-cell interfaces produce distinct specular or diffuse reflections that can be imaged to give a micron-resolution replica of the mucosal surface. The method was validated using fluid layers of specified thicknesses and applied to measure ASL depth in cell cultures and ex vivo fragments of pig trachea. In addition, the method was adapted to measure transepithelial fluid transport from the dynamics of fluid layer depth. Compared with confocal imaging, ASL depth measurement by surface laser reflectance microscopy does not require dye staining or costly instrumentation, and can potentially be adapted for in vivo measurements using fiberoptics.

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