A new anesthesia protocol enabling longitudinal lung-function measurements in neonatal rabbits by micro-CT

Micro-computed tomography (micro-CT) imaging is an emerging technology with many applications in small animals, for example, the study of pulmonary diseases, although clear guidelines and critical mass of evidence are still missing in the preclinical literature. The neonatal rabbit is a valuable model for studying pulmonary development. However, the longitudinal monitoring of lung function by micro-CT can be challenging. Distinctive datasets corresponding to the end-inspiration and end-expiration phases need to be generated and analyzed to derive lung-functional parameters. The quality of CT scans and the reliability of parameters obtained remain highly dependent on the anesthesia protocol used. Three different anesthetic protocols were tested. The combination of dexmedetomidine 0.25 mg/kg injected intraperitoneally followed by 1% isoflurane was found to facilitate CT imaging at 4 and 11 days after birth. Contrarily, isoflurane and ketamine-xylazine were found unsuitable and thus not investigated further. Total lung volumes significantly increased at day 11 compared with baseline in both respiratory phases, whereas lung tissue remained constant. As expected, functional residual capacity, air-to-tissue ratio, and minute ventilation were significantly increased at day 11 in each animal. Those parameters were correlated with inspiratory capacity, compliance, elastance, and resistance of both respiratory system and tissue component, as measured by flexiVent. Lung development was also evaluated by histomorphometric analyses. In conclusion, we have identified a safe and suitable anesthesia protocol for micro-CT imaging in neonatal rabbits. Moreover, the possibility to longitudinally measure lung function in the same subject dramatically reduced the intraexperimental variability.