Exposure to chronic hypoxia results in pulmonary hypertension characterized by increased vascular resistance and pulmonary vascular remodeling, changes in functional parameters of the pulmonary vasculature, and right ventricular hypertrophy, which can eventually lead to right heart failure. The underlying mechanisms of hypoxia-induced pulmonary hypertension have still not been fully elucidated while no curative treatment is currently available. Commonly employed pre-clinical analytic methods are largely limited to invasive studies interfering with cardiac tissue or otherwise ex vivo functional studies and histopathology. In this work, we suggest volumetric optoacoustic tomography (VOT) for non-invasive assessment of heart function in response to chronic hypoxia. Mice exposed for 3 consecutive weeks to normoxia or chronic hypoxia were imaged in vivo with heart perfusion tracked by VOT using indocyanide green contrast agent at high temporal (100 Hz) and spatial (200 µm) resolutions in 3D. Unequivocal difference in the pulmonary transit time was revealed between the hypoxic and normoxic conditions concomitant with the presence of pulmonary vascular remodeling within hypoxic models. Furthermore, a beat-to-beat analysis of the volumetric image data enabled identifying and characterizing arrhythmic events in mice exposed to chronic hypoxia. The newly introduced non-invasive methodology for analysis of impaired pulmonary vasculature and heart function under chronic hypoxic exposure provides important inputs into development of early diagnosis and treatment strategies in pulmonary hypertension.

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