The value of ultrahigh resolution OCT in dermatology - delineating the dermo-epidermal junction, capillaries in the dermal papillae and vellus hairs

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Optical coherence tomography (OCT) imaging of the skin is gaining recognition and is increasingly applied to dermatological research. A key dermatological parameter inferred from an OCT image is the epidermal (Ep) thickness as a thickened Ep can be an indicator of a skin disease. Agreement in the literature on the signal characters of Ep and the subjacent skin layer, the dermis (D), is evident. Ambiguities of the OCT signal interpretation in the literature is however seen for the transition region between the Ep and D, which from histology is known as the dermo-epidermal junction (DEJ); a distinct junction comprised of the lower surface of a single cell layer in epidermis (the stratum basale) connected to an even thinner membrane (the basement membrane). The basement membrane is attached to the underlying dermis. In this work we investigate the impact of an improved axial and lateral resolution on the applicability of OCT for imaging of the skin. To this goal, OCT images are compared produced by a commercial OCT system (Vivosight from Michaelson Diagnostics) and by an in-house built ultrahigh resolution (UHR-) OCT system for dermatology. In 11 healthy volunteers, we investigate the DEJ signal characteristics. We perform a detailed analysis of the dark (low) signal band clearly seen for UHR-OCT in the DEJ region where we, by using a transition function, find the signal transition of axial sub-resolution character, which can be directly attributed to the exact location of DEJ, both in normal (thin/hairy) and glabrous (thick) skin. To our knowledge no detailed delineating of the DEJ in the UHR-OCT image has previously been reported, despite many publications within this field. For selected healthy volunteers, we investigate the dermal papillae and the vellus hairs and identify distinct features that only UHR-OCT can resolve. Differences are seen in tracing hairs of diameter below 20 μm, and in imaging the dermal papillae where, when utilising the UHR-OCT, capillary structures are identified in the hand palm, not previously reported in OCT studies and specifically for glabrous skin not reported in any other in vivo optical imaging studies.

Original languageEnglish
JournalBiomedical Optics Express
Issue number5
Pages (from-to)2240-2265
Number of pages26
Publication statusPublished - 2018

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