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Advanced imaging techniques are enhancing research capacity focussed on the developmental origins of adult health and disease (DOHaD) hypothesis, and consequently increasing awareness of future health risks across various subareas of DOHaD research themes. Understanding how these advanced imaging techniques in animal models and human population studies can be both additively and synergistically used alongside traditional techniques in DOHaD-focussed laboratories is therefore of great interest. Global experts in advanced imaging techniques congregated at the advanced imaging workshop at the 2019 DOHaD World Congress in Melbourne, Australia. This review summarizes the presentations of new imaging modalities and novel applications to DOHaD research and discussions had by DOHaD researchers that are currently utilizing advanced imaging techniques including MRI, hyperpolarized MRI, ultrasound, and synchrotron-based techniques to aid their DOHaD research focus.
Optimal placental function is critical for fetal development, and therefore a crucial consideration for understanding the developmental origins of health and disease (DOHaD). The structure of the fetal side of the placental vasculature is an important determinant of fetal growth and cardiovascular development. There are several imaging modalities for assessing feto-placental structure including stereology, electron microscopy, confocal microscopy, micro-computed tomography, light-sheet microscopy, ultrasonography and magnetic resonance imaging. In this review, we present current methodologies for imaging feto-placental vasculature morphology ex vivo and in vivo in human and experimental models, their advantages and limitations and how these provide insight into placental function and fetal outcomes. These imaging approaches add important perspective to our understanding of placental biology and have potential to be new tools to elucidate a deeper understanding of DOHaD.
The mammalian kidney is a complex organ, requiring the concerted function of up to millions of nephrons. The number of nephrons is constant after nephrogenesis during development, and nephron loss over a life span can lead to susceptibility to acute or chronic kidney disease. New technologies are under development to count individual nephrons in the kidney in vivo. This review outlines these technologies and highlights their relevance to studies of human renal development and disease.
Chronic kidney disease continues to be under recognised and is associated with a significant global health burden and costs. An adverse intrauterine environment may result in a depleted nephron number and an increased risk of chronic kidney disease. Antenatal ultrasound was used to measure the foetal renal parenchymal thickness (RPT), as a novel method to estimate nephron number. Foetal renal artery blood flow was also assessed. This prospective, longitudinal study evaluated the foetal kidneys of 102 appropriately grown and 30 foetal growth-restricted foetuses between 20 and 37 weeks gestational age (GA) to provide vital knowledge on the influences foetal growth restriction has on the developing kidneys. The foetal RPT and renal artery blood flow were measured at least every 4 weeks using ultrasound. The RPT was found to be significantly thinner in growth-restricted foetuses compared to appropriately grown foetuses [likelihood ratio (LR) = 21.06, P ≤ 0.0001] and the difference increases with GA. In foetuses with the same head circumference, a growth-restricted foetus was more likely to have a thinner parenchyma than an appropriately grown foetus (LR = 8.9, P = 0.0028), supporting the principle that growth-restricted foetuses preferentially shunt blood towards the brain. No significant difference was seen in the renal arteries between appropriately grown and growth-restricted foetuses. Measurement of the RPT appears to be a more sensitive measure than current methods. It has the potential to identify infants with a possible reduced nephron endowment allowing for monitoring and interventions to be focused on individuals at a higher risk of developing future hypertension and chronic kidney disease.
Observing fetal development in utero is vital to further the understanding of later-life diseases. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) offers a tool for obtaining a wealth of information about fetal growth, development, and programming not previously available using other methods. This review provides an overview of MRI techniques used to investigate the metabolic and cardiovascular consequences of the developmental origins of health and disease (DOHaD) hypothesis. These methods add to the understanding of the developing fetus by examining fetal growth and organ development, adipose tissue and body composition, fetal oximetry, placental microstructure, diffusion, perfusion, flow, and metabolism. MRI assessment of fetal growth, organ development, metabolism, and the amount of fetal adipose tissue could give early indicators of abnormal fetal development. Noninvasive fetal oximetry can accurately measure placental and fetal oxygenation, which improves current knowledge on placental function. Additionally, measuring deficiencies in the placenta’s transport of nutrients and oxygen is critical for optimizing treatment. Overall, the detailed structural and functional information provided by MRI is valuable in guiding future investigations of DOHaD.
Cardiovascular diseases (CVD) are important consequences of adverse perinatal conditions such as fetal hypoxia and maternal malnutrition. Cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (CMR) can produce a wealth of physiological information related to the development of the heart. This review outlines the current state of CMR technologies and describes the physiological biomarkers that can be measured. These phenotypes include impaired ventricular and atrial function, maladaptive ventricular remodeling, and the proliferation of myocardial steatosis and fibrosis. The discussion outlines the applications of CMR to understanding the developmental pathways leading to impaired cardiac function. The use of CMR, both in animal models of developmental programming and in human studies, is described. Specific examples are given in a baboon model of intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR). CMR offers great potential as a tool for understanding the sequence of dysfunctional adaptations of developmental origin that can affect the human cardiovascular system.