Purpose: To describe a spectral imaging system for small animal studies based on noninvasive endoscopy of the retina, and to present time-resolved spectral changes from live Alzheimer's mice prior to cognitive decline, corroborating our previous in vitro findings. Methods: Topical endoscope fundus imaging was modified to use a machine vision camera and tunable wavelength system for acquiring monochromatic images across the visible to near-infrared spectral range. Alzheimer's APP/PS1 mice and age-matched, wild-type mice were imaged monthly from months 3 through 8 to assess changes in the fundus reflection spectrum. Optical changes were fit to Rayleigh light scatter models as measures of amyloid aggregation. Results: Good quality spectral images of the central retina were obtained. Short-wavelength reflectance from Alzheimer's mice retinae showed significant reduction over time compared to wild-type mice. Optical changes were consistent with an increase in Rayleigh light scattering in neural retina due to soluble Aβ1–42 aggregates. The changes in light scatter showed a monotonic increase in soluble amyloid aggregates over a 6-month period, with significant build up occurring at 7 months. Conclusions: Hyperspectral imaging technique can be brought inexpensively to the study of retinal changes caused by Alzheimer's disease progression in live small animals. A similar previous finding of reduction in the light reflection over a range of wavelengths in isolated Alzheimer's mice retinae, was reproducible in the living Alzheimer's mice. The technique presented here has a potential for development as an early Alzheimer's retinal diagnostic test in humans, which will support the treatment outcome.
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