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Nerve autofluorescence in near-ultraviolet light markedly enhances nerve visualization in vivo

Methods: We exposed sciatic nerves within the posterior thigh in five 250-300 gm Wistar rats, then observed them at four different NUV intensity levels: 20%, 35%, 50%, and 100%. Brightness of fluorescence was measured by fluorescence spectroscopy, quantified as a fluorescence score using Image-J software, and statistically compared between nerves, background, and both an artery and vein by unpaired Student's t tests with Bonferroni adjustment to accommodate multiple comparisons. Sensitivity, specificity, and accuracy were calculated for each NUV intensity.

Results: At 20, 35, 50, and 100% NUV intensity, fluorescence scores for nerves versus background tissues were 117.4 versus 40.0, 225.8 versus 88.0, 250.6 versus 121.4, and 252.8 versus 169.4, respectively (all p < 0.001). Fluorescence scores plateaued at 50% NUV intensity for nerves, but continued to rise for background. At 35%, 50%, and 100% NUV intensity, a fluorescence score of 200 was 100% sensitive, specific, and accurate identifying nerves. At 100 NUV intensity, artery and vein scores were 61.8 and 60.0, both dramatically lower than for nerves (p < 0.001).

Conclusions: At all NUV intensities ≥ 35%, a fluorescence score of 200 is 100% accurate distinguishing nerves from other anatomical structures in vivo.

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