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Ultramicroscopy. 2004 Jul;100(1-2):115-25.

Three-dimensional distributions of elements in biological samples by energy-filtered electron tomography.

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  • 1Division of Bioengineering and Physical Science, ORS, National Institutes of Health, Building 13, 3N17, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA.


By combining electron tomography with energy-filtered electron microscopy, we have shown the feasibility of determining the three-dimensional distributions of phosphorus in biological specimens. Thin sections of the nematode, Caenorhabditis elegans were prepared by high-pressure freezing, freeze-substitution and plastic embedding. Images were recorded at energy losses above and below the phosphorus L2,3 edge using a post-column imaging filter operating at a beam energy of 120 keV. The unstained specimens exhibited minimal contrast in bright-field images. After it was determined that the specimen was sufficiently thin to allow two-window ratio imaging of phosphorus, pairs of pre-edge and post-edge images were acquired in series over a tilt range of +/-55 degrees at 5 degrees increments for two orthogonal tilt axes. The projected phosphorus distributions were aligned using the pre-edge images that contained inelastic contrast from colloidal gold particles deposited on the specimen surface. A reconstruction and surface rendering of the phosphorus distribution clearly revealed features 15-20 nm in diameter, which were identified as ribosomes distributed along the stacked membranes of endoplasmic reticulum and in the cytoplasm. The sensitivity of the technique was estimated at < 35 phosphorus atoms per voxel based on the known total ribosomal phosphorus content of approximately 7000 atoms. Although a high electron dose of approximately 10(7)e/nm2 was required to record two-axis tilt series, specimens were sufficiently stable to allow image alignment and tomographic reconstruction.

Copyright 2004 Elsevier B.V.

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