Saturday, April 13, 2013

Seeing Inside Cells: Array Tomography

I wrote a lot about dopamine and its complicated nature last month after coming back from the IBAGs conference, so for a change of pace, I'll talk about some truly amazing new techniques that allow us to see inside cells with unprecedented resolution and at unprecedented volumes.

I've previously discussed some traditional techniques for visualizing specific details in neurons, and this month I'm going to talk about some of the newest fanciest ways to look at cellular scale information. 

First off, Array Tomography! 

Micheva et al. 2010 Figure 1 Array Tomography

Array Tomography combines the enhanced location information of the electron microscopy with the scale and context of immunohistochemistry or in situ hybridization. Not only that, but Array Tomography is done in such a way that the same preparation can be stained for 100s of different proteins.  This is a priceless gift to those who want to study protein co-localization.  Do certain receptors 'flock together', and if so does a mutation, or drug treatment alter their abundance or proximity to one another?

Micheva et al. 2010 Figure 4 spine head and neck locations of specific proteins

And just how do they accomplish this feat?

The trick is in the slicing. Using an ultramicrotome these guys can slice a section of brain 70 nm thin. That's 70 NANOmeters, which is really really thin. (Compare it to 'thick section staining' which works on sections 350,000 nanometers thin). The smallest cellular features, the necks of spines can be as thin as 50-100nm, so 70nm can really capture a lot of detail.

Here is a 'fly through' video of the cortical layers in a cortical column. The red dots are identified synapses, and around 2:11 of the video you get to the pyramidal cell bodies (green) which is pretty stunning.

While "Array Tomography" doesn't quite capture the public imagination like "neurons activated by light", it is huge leap forward in the domain of cellular neuroscience. With array tomography, it becomes possible to investigate co-localization of many proteins in a relatively large section of brain tissue. 

© TheCellularScale

ResearchBlogging.orgMicheva KD, Busse B, Weiler NC, O'Rourke N, & Smith SJ (2010). Single-synapse analysis of a diverse synapse population: proteomic imaging methods and markers. Neuron, 68 (4), 639-53 PMID: 21092855

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this nice article! I think you should be interested in having a look to a new Application Note CYTOO has just added on its website ( in the "Application notes & posters" menu)

    It describes three innovative imaging techniques (TIRF, SR-SIM and SEM) to visualize and analyze fixed cells on micropatterns, which enable fine analysis and full exploitation of the 2D+ Technology potential.