Phase-contrast microtomography: are the tracers necessary for stem cell tracking in infarcted hearts?
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Recent literature has identified innovative approaches of cellular therapy to generate new myocardium involving transcoronary and intramyocardial injection of cardiac progenitor cells (CPCs). One of the limiting factors in the overall interpretation of these preclinical results is the lack of reliable methods for 3D imaging and quantification of the injected cells and for the assessment of their fate within the myocardium. Here, for the first time to the authors' knowledge, we support by demonstrative experiments the hypothesis that phase-contrast microtomography (PhC-microCT) could offer an efficient 3D imaging approach to track the injected cells within the myocardium, without the need of any cell tracer. This deduction has been validated by several observations: (i) a strong phase-contrast signal was observed in infarcted hearts injected with unlabeled cells; (ii) the PhC-microCT 3D reconstructions of hearts injected with only vehicle saline solution and rhodamine particles, i.e. without CPCs, did not show any contrast; (iii) in the 3D PhC-microCT reconstructions of non infarcted hearts, injected with unlabeled CPCs, the contrast signal of the cells was present but differently distributed; and (iv) the contrast signal of injected cells diminished over time apparently following the same timing of cell engraftment and differentiation, as confirmed in literature by histology and fluorescence analysis. The chance to avoid cell tracers is of paramount interest in determining the fate of transplanted stem cells because the quantification of the signal will not be any more dependent on injected dose, concentration of the tracer, cell proliferation and tracer uptake kinetics.