Thickness profiling of formaldehyde-fixed cells by transmission-through-dye microscopy.

PMID 21781039


Conventional light microscopy techniques are poorly suited for imaging the vertical cell dimension. This can be accomplished using transmission-through-dye (TTD) imaging, in which cell thickness is directly converted into image intensity in the presence of extracellular dye with strong absorption. We have previously described applications of TTD to living cells using the dye Acid Blue 9 (AB9) to generate contrast. In this work, we investigated the possibility of extending TTD to chemically fixed cells. This would depend on preservation of cell impermeability to the dye; by using a method based on fluorescence quenching, we found that formaldehyde-fixed cells remain impermeable to AB9. Fixation enables imaging of cell surfaces in the presence of high concentrations of AB9, bringing the vertical resolution to several nanometers per pixel; that is at least an order of magnitude better than resolution achievable with live cells. TTD images collected with high-NA objectives are often contaminated by Becke lines resulting from intracellular organelles, and we show how to distinguish them from features on the cell surface. Quantification of cell thickness and volume on fixed cells is also possible during the early stages of fixation; this can be useful, for example, for measuring volume kinetics following rapid introduction of a stimulus.