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Biochim Biophys Acta. 1976 Jul 1;436(3):577-92.

The chemical nature of osmium tetroxide fixation and staining of membranes by x-ray photoelectron spectroscopy.


X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy was used to determine the oxidation states of osmium compounds present in erythrocyte ghost preparations and related systems treated with osmium tetroxide. Osmium tetroxide and cholesterol, codeposited at -100 degrees C, began to react at -70 degrees C, and Os(VI) was formed. Similarly, Os(VI) was detected for the known cholesterol-osmate ester prepared and purified chemically. However, osmium tetroxide applied in phosphate buffer (pH 7.2) gave rise to large proportions of Os(IV) and Os(III) species in addition to Os(VI) compounds. Egg phosphatidylcholine likewise produced a mixture of Os(VI), Os(IV), and Os(III), but dipalmitoyl phosphatidylcholine failed to give significant amounts of osmium containing products under identical conditions. Glutaraldehyde gave a mixture of compounds with the same osmium oxidation states when allowed to react with aqueous osmium tetroxide. Unfixed and glutaraldehyde-fixed erythrocyte ghosts also produced mixtures of Ss(VI), Os(IV) and Os(III) under conditions identical to those of normal tissue processing. Additionally, the mixture of adducts initially formed by treatment with osmium tetroxide was further reduced by dehydration of the tissue with ethanol, rpesulting in a final mixture which was 50-60% Os(III). The results support a scheme for the reaction os osmium tetroxide with tissues in which the initial reaction site is the double bonds of unsaturated lipids to form Os(VI) derivatives. Subsequent hydrolysis and further reduction yield complexes of Os(IV) and Os(III). A mixture of these three states is present in membrane specimens during microscopic observation. Os(VI) and Os(IV) could be present as osmate esters and osmium dioxide, respectively; Os(III) could be present as an oxo- or amino complex(es). The photoelectron spectrum of intact erythrocyte ghosts can be synthesized from the spectra of phospholipid and cholesterol only, suggesting the predominance of the reaction with lipids in the fixation process.

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