abberior dyes & labels
Imaging the impact of chemical fixation on the microanatomy of mouse brain tissue
Agata Idziak, V.V.G. Krishna Inavalli, Stephane Bancelin, Misa Arizono, U. Valentin Nägerl
Chemical fixation, Braintissue
Chemical fixation using paraformaldehyde (PFA) is a standard step for preserving cells and tissues for subsequent microscopic analyses such as immunofluorescence or electron microscopy. However, chemical fixation may introduce physical alterations in the spatial arrangement of cellular proteins, organelles and membranes. With the increasing use of super-resolution microscopy to visualize cellular structures with nanometric precision, assessing potential artifacts – and knowing how to avoid them – takes on special urgency. We addressed this issue by taking advantage of live-cell super-resolution microscopy that makes it possible to directly observe the acute effects of PFA on organotypic brain slices, allowing us to compare tissue integrity in a ‘before-and-after’ experiment. We applied super-resolution shadow imaging to assess the structure of the extracellular space (ECS) and regular super-resolution microscopy of fluorescently labeled neurons and astrocytes to quantify key neuroanatomical parameters. While the ECS volume fraction and micro-anatomical organization of astrocytes remained largely unaffected by the PFA treatment, we detected subtle changes in dendritic spine morphology and observed substantial damage to cell membranes. Our experiments show that PFA application via immersion does not cause a noticeable shrinkage of the ECS in brain slices, unlike the situation in transcardially perfused animals where the ECS typically becomes nearly depleted. In addition to the super-resolved characterization of fixation artefacts in identified cellular and tissue compartments, our study outlines an experimental strategy to evaluate the quality and pitfalls of various fixation protocols for the molecular and morphological preservation of cells and tissues.