European Biophysics Journal

, Volume 37, Issue 1, pp 35–54 | Cite as

Functional imaging of mucociliary phenomena

High-speed digital reflection contrast microscopy
  • M. Ryser
  • A. Burn
  • Th. Wessel
  • M. Frenz
  • J. Rička
Original Paper


We present a technique for the investigation of mucociliary phenomena on trachea explants under conditions resembling those in the respiratory tract. Using an enhanced reflection contrast, we detect simultaneously the wave-like modulation of the mucus surface by the underlying ciliary activity and the transport of particles embedded in the mucus layer. Digital recordings taken at a speed of 500 frames per second are analyzed by a set of refined data processing algorithms. The simultaneously extracted data include not only ciliary beat frequency and its surface distribution, but also space–time structure of the mucociliary wave field, wave velocity and mucus transport velocity. Furthermore, we propose the analysis of the space and time evolution of the phase of the mucociliary oscillations to be the most direct way to visualize the coordination of the cilia. In particular, this analysis indicates that the synchronization is restricted to patches with varying directions of wave propagation, but the transport direction is strongly correlated with the mean direction of waves. The capabilities of the technique and of the data-processing algorithms are documented by characteristic data obtained from mammalian and avine tracheae.


Cilia Ciliary beat frequency Metachronal wave Ciliary coordination High-speed video microscopy Metachronal wavelength Mucociliary transport 



The work was partly supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation. We thank Patrick Stoller for kindly proofreading the manuscript.

Supplementary material

249_2007_153_MOESM1_ESM.m1v (3.1 mb)
S1 Raw movie of a turkey trachea. Note the birds fast transport. (m1v 3.12 MB)
249_2007_153_MOESM2_ESM.m1v (2.5 mb)
S2 "Metachronal wave field" movie, upon tracer removal and dynamic filtering of S1. (m1v 2.51 MB)
249_2007_153_MOESM3_ESM.m1v (220 kb)
S3 Space-time correlogram of S2. (m1v 219 kb)
249_2007_153_MOESM4_ESM.m1v (2.7 mb)
S4 Phase map movie of S2. (m1v 2.73 MB)
249_2007_153_MOESM5_ESM.m1v (2.7 mb)
S5 Phase gradient movie of S4. (m1v 2.72 MB)
249_2007_153_MOESM6_ESM.pdf (7 kb)
S6 (PDF 6.9 kb)
249_2007_153_MOESM7_ESM.m1v (3.1 mb)
S7 "Metachronal wave field" movie, on a strange sheep trachea. (m1v 3.11 MB)
249_2007_153_MOESM8_ESM.m1v (3.1 mb)
S8 Phase map movie of S7. (m1v 3.11 MB)


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Copyright information

© EBSA 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • M. Ryser
    • 1
  • A. Burn
    • 1
  • Th. Wessel
    • 1
  • M. Frenz
    • 1
  • J. Rička
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of Applied PhysicsUniversity of BernBernSwitzerland

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