The heterogeneous morphology of networked collagen in distal colon and rectum of mice quantified via nonlinear microscopy

Franz Maier, Saeed Siri, Stephany Santos, Longtu Chen, Bin Feng, David M. Pierce

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)


Visceral pain from the distal colon and rectum (colorectum) is a major complaint of patients with irritable bowel syndrome. Mechanotransduction of colorectal distension/stretch appears to play a critical role in visceral nociception, and further understanding requires improved knowledge of the micromechanical environments at different sub-layers of the colorectum. In this study, we conducted nonlinear imaging via second harmonic generation to quantify the thickness of each distinct through-thickness layer of the colorectum, as well as the principal orientations, corresponding dispersions in orientations, and the distributions of diameters of collagen fibers within each of these layers. From C57BL/6 mice of both sexes (8–16 weeks of age, 25–35 g), we dissected the distal 30 mm of the large bowel including the colorectum, divided these into three even segments, and harvested specimens (~8 × 8 mm2) from each segment. We stretched the specimens either by colorectal distension to 20 mmHg (reference) or 80 mmHg (deformed) or by biaxial stretch to 10 mN (reference) or 80 mN (deformed), and fixed them with 4% paraformaldehyde. We then conducted SHG imaging through the wall thickness and analyzed post-hoc using custom-built software to quantify the orientations of collagen fibers in all distinct layers. We also quantified the thickness of each layer of the colorectum, and the corresponding distributions of collagen density and diameters of fibers. We found collagen concentrated in the submucosal layer. The average diameter of collagen fibers was greatest in the submucosal layer, followed by the serosal and muscular layers. Collagen fibers aligned with muscle fibers in the two muscular layers, whereas their orientation varied greatly with location in the serosal layer. In colonic segments, thick collagen fibers in the submucosa presented two major orientations aligned approximately ±30° to the axial direction, and form a patterned network. Our results indicate the submucosa is likely the principal passive load-bearing structure of the colorectum. In addition, afferent endings in those collagen-rich regions present likely candidates of colorectal nociceptors to encode noxious distension/stretch.

Original languageEnglish
Article number104116
Pages (from-to)104116
JournalJournal of the Mechanical Behavior of Biomedical Materials
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2021


  • Biaxial extension test
  • Colorectum
  • Confocal microscopy
  • Mechanotransduction
  • Submucosa
  • Visceral pain
  • Humans
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Male
  • Mechanotransduction, Cellular
  • Animals
  • Microscopy
  • Collagen
  • Rectum
  • Female
  • Mice
  • Colon


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