Date: 13 Jul 2011

Realistic 3D Computer Model of the Gerbil Middle Ear, Featuring Accurate Morphology of Bone and Soft Tissue Structures


In order to improve realism in middle ear (ME) finite-element modeling (FEM), comprehensive and precise morphological data are needed. To date, micro-scale X-ray computed tomography (μCT) recordings have been used as geometric input data for FEM models of the ME ossicles. Previously, attempts were made to obtain these data on ME soft tissue structures as well. However, due to low X-ray absorption of soft tissue, quality of these images is limited. Another popular approach is using histological sections as data for 3D models, delivering high in-plane resolution for the sections, but the technique is destructive in nature and registration of the sections is difficult. We combine data from high-resolution μCT recordings with data from high-resolution orthogonal-plane fluorescence optical-sectioning microscopy (OPFOS), both obtained on the same gerbil specimen. State-of-the-art μCT delivers high-resolution data on the 3D shape of ossicles and other ME bony structures, while the OPFOS setup generates data of unprecedented quality both on bone and soft tissue ME structures. Each of these techniques is tomographic and non-destructive and delivers sets of automatically aligned virtual sections. The datasets coming from different techniques need to be registered with respect to each other. By combining both datasets, we obtain a complete high-resolution morphological model of all functional components in the gerbil ME. The resulting 3D model can be readily imported in FEM software and is made freely available to the research community. In this paper, we discuss the methods used, present the resulting merged model, and discuss the morphological properties of the soft tissue structures, such as muscles and ligaments.