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Cytometry A. 2006 Nov 1;69(11):1143-52.

Whole insect and mammalian embryo imaging with confocal microscopy: morphology and apoptosis.

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  • 1Division of Reproductive Toxicology, National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory, Office of Research and Development, US Environmental Protection Agency, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina 27711, USA.



After fluorochromes are incorporated into cells, tissues, and organisms, confocal microscopy can be used to observe three-dimensional structures. LysoTracker Red (LT) is a paraformaldehyde fixable probe that concentrates into acidic compartments of cells and indicates regions of high lysosomal activity and phagocytosis, which both correlate to apoptosis activity. LT has been shown to be an indicator of apoptotic cell death which is correlated to other standard apoptotic assays.


The mammalian samples were stained with LT, fixed with paraformaldehyde/glutaraldehyde, dehydrated with methanol (MEOH), and cleared with benzyl alcohol/benzyl benzoate (BABB). Following this treatment, the tissues were nearly transparent. Mosquitoes were fixed with MEOH and stained with propidium iodide. Next the tissues were dehydrated with MEOH and cleared with BABB.


Tissues as thick as 500 microm can be visualized after clearing with BABB. LT staining revealed apoptotic regions in mammalian limbs, fetuses, and embryos. Morphological observation of insect tissue consisted of combining autofluorescence with either nucleic acid staining (either propidium iodide or ethidium bromide).


The use of BABB matches the RI of the tissue within the suspending medium. It helps in increasing the penetration of laser light in a confocal microscope by reducing the amount of light scattering artifacts and allows for the visualization of morphology in thick tissues. LT is a probe that stains the acid regions of tissues and cells and has been correlated to apoptosis. Morphological features of a tissue or organism (embryo, mosquito larvae) can be elucidated by fixation aldehydes, autofluorescence, and red-emitting probes. This sample preparation procedure with optimization of confocal laser scanning microscopy allowed for the detection and visualization of apoptosis in fetal limbs and embryos which were approximately 500-microm thick.

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