A relationship between tendon stress and strain and ultrasonic echo intensity has previously been defined in tendons, demonstrating a correlation between tissue stiffness and echo intensity. An analogous relationship between volume-dependent pressure changes and echo intensity changes in inflating lungs would indicate a correlation between lung compliance and echo intensity. Lung compliance is an important metric to diagnose pathologies which affect lung tissue mechanics, such as emphysema and cystic fibrosis. The goal of this study is to demonstrate a correlation between ultrasound echo intensity and lung tissue mechanics in an ex vivo model using a fluid-filled negative pressure bath design which provides a controlled environment for ultrasonic and mechanical measurements. Lungs from 4 male Sprague-Dawley rats were removed and mechanically tested via inflation and deflation in a negative pressure chamber filled with hetastarch. Specific volumes (1, 2, 3, and 4 mL) were removed from the chamber using a syringe to create negative pressure, which resulted in lung inflation. A pressure transducer recorded the pressure around the lungs. From these data, lung compliance was calculated. Ultrasound images were captured through the chamber wall to determine echo intensity (grayscale brightness in the ultrasound image), which was then related to mechanical parameters. Ultrasound images of the lung were successfully captured through the chamber wall with sufficient resolution to deduce echo intensity changes in the lung tissue. Echo intensity (0–255 scale) increased with volumetric changes (18.4 ± 5.5, 22.6 ± 5.1, 26.1 ± 7.5, and 42.9 ± 19.5 for volumetric changes of 1, 2, 3, and 4 mL) in a pattern similar to pressure (−6.8 ± 1.7, −6.8 ± 1.4, −9.4 ± 0.7, and −16.9 ± 6.8 cm H2O for 1, 2, 3, and 4 mL), reflecting changes in lung compliance. Measured rat lung tissue compliance was comparable to reported values from ex vivo lungs (0.178 ± 0.067, 0.378 ± 0.051, 0.427 ± 0.062, and 0.350 ± 0.160 mL/cm H20 for 1, 2, 3, and 4 mL), supporting proof of concept for the experimental method. Changes in echo intensity reflected changes in lung compliance in this ex vivo model, thus, supporting our hypothesis that the stiffness-related changes in echo intensity originally seen in tendon can be similarly detected in lung tissue. The presented ultrasound-based methods allowed measurement of local lung tissue compliance in a controlled environment, however, the methods could be expanded to facilitate both ex vivo and in vivo studies.

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