Vascular imaging is crucial in the clinical diagnosis and management of cerebrovascular diseases, such as brain arteriovenous malformations (BAVMs). Animal models are necessary for studying the etiopathology and potential therapies of cerebrovascular diseases. Imaging the vasculature in large animals is relatively easy. However, developing vessel imaging methods of murine brain disease models is desirable due to the cost and availability of genetically-modified mouse lines. Imaging the murine cerebral vascular tree is a challenge. In humans and larger animals, the gold standard for assessing the angioarchitecture at the macrovascular (conductance) level is x-ray catheter contrast-based angiography, a method not suited for small rodents.
In this article, we present a method of cerebrovascular casting that produces a durable skeleton of the entire vascular bed, including arteries, veins, and capillaries that may be analyzed using many different modalities. Complete casting of the microvessels of the mouse cerebrovasculature can be difficult; however, these challenges are addressed in this step-by-step protocol. Through intracardial perfusion of the vascular casting material, all vessels of the body are casted. The brain can then be removed and clarified using the organic solvent methyl salicylate. Three dimensional imaging of the brain blood vessels can be visualized simply and inexpensively with any conventional brightfield microscope or dissecting microscope. The casted cerebrovasculature can also be imaged and quantified using micro-computed tomography (micro-CT)1. In addition, after being imaged, the casted brain can be embedded in paraffin for histological analysis.
The benefit of this vascular casting method as compared to other techniques is its broad adaptation to various analytic tools, including brightfield microscopic analysis, CT scanning due to the radiopaque characteristic of the material, as well as histological and immunohistochemical analysis. This efficient use of tissue can save animal usage and reduce costs. We have recently demonstrated application of this method to visualize the irregular blood vessels in a mouse model of adult BAVM at a microscopic level2, and provide additional images of the malformed vessels imaged by micro-CT scan. Although this method has drawbacks and may not be ideal for all types of analyses, it is a simple, practical technique that can be easily learned and widely applied to vascular casting of blood vessels throughout the body.
Keywords: Neuroscience, Issue 57, vessel, vascular cast, capillary, cerebrovasculature, brain, blood, AVM, fistula