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J Histochem Cytochem. 2003 Jun;51(6):773-80.

Fixation methods for the study of lipid droplets by immunofluorescence microscopy.

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Department of Nutritional Sciences, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, New Brunswick, New Jersey 08901, USA.


The study of proteins associated with lipid droplets in adipocytes and many other cells is a rapidly developing area of inquiry. Although lipid droplets are easily visible by light microscopy, few standardized microscopy methods have been developed. Several methods of chemical fixation have recently been used to preserve cell structure before visualization of lipid droplets by light microscopy. We tested the most commonly used methods to compare the effects of the fixatives on cellular lipid content and lipid droplet structure. Cold methanol fixation has traditionally been used before visualization of cytoskeletal elements. We found this method unacceptable for study of lipid droplets because it extracted the majority of cellular phospholipids and promoted fusion of lipid droplets. Cold acetone fixation is similarly unacceptable because the total cellular lipids are extracted, causing collapse of the shell of lipid droplet-associated proteins. Fixation of cells with paraformaldehyde is the method of choice, because the cells retain their lipid content and lipid droplet structure is unaffected. As more lipid droplet-associated proteins are discovered and studied, it is critical to use appropriate methods to avoid studying artifacts.

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