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Pinhole collimation of gamma rays to image distributions of radiolabeled tracers is considered promising for use in small animal imaging. The recent availability of transgenic mice, coupled with the development of 125I and 99mTc labeled tracers, has allowed the study of a range of human disease models while creating demand for ultrahigh resolution imaging devices. We have developed a compact gamma camera that, in combination with pinhole collimation, allows for accessible, ultrahigh resolution in vivo single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) imaging of small animals. The system is based on a pixilated array of NaI(Tl) crystals coupled to an array of position sensitive photomultiplier tubes. Interchangeable tungsten pinholes with diameters ranging from 0.5 to 3 mm are available, allowing the camera to be optimized for a variety of imaging situations. We use a three dimensional maximum likelihood expectation maximization algorithm to reconstruct the images. Our evaluation indicates that high quality, submillimeter spatial resolution images can be achieved in living mice. Reconstructed axial spatial resolution was measured to be 0.53, 0.74, and 0.96 mm full width at half maximum (FWHM) for rotation radii of 1, 2, and 3 cm, respectively, using the 0.5-mm pinhole. In this configuration, sensitivity is comparable to that of a high-resolution parallel hole collimator. SPECT images of hot- and cold-rod phantoms and a highly structured monkey brain phantom illustrate that high quality images can be obtained with the system. Images of living mice demonstrate the ability of the system to obtain high-resolution images in vivo. The effect of object size on the quantitative assessment of isotope distributions in an image was also studied.
Date of Publication: Oct 2002