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Cell Physiol Biochem. 2010;25(1):27-40. doi: 10.1159/000272061. Epub 2009 Dec 22.

The closer we look the more we see? Quantitative microscopic analysis of the pulmonary surfactant system.

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Institute of Anatomy, University of Bern, Bern, Swizerland.


The surfactant system of the lung has essential biophysical and immunomodulatory functions. Only at the electron microscopic level does surfactant reveal its morphological complexity--and beauty. Therefore, morphological tools are indispensible to characterize the surfactant system in health and disease. Stereology provides the gold standard for obtaining quantitative (morphometric) data in microscopy. The combination of microscopy and stereology allows for qualitative and quantitative analysis of the intraalveolar as well as the intracellular surfactant pool, both in its preserved microorganization and localization within the lung. Surfactant-producing alveolar epithelial type II cells can be counted and sampled for size estimation with physical disectors at a high magnification light microscopic level. The number of their surfactant storing lamellar bodies can be estimated using physical disectors at the electron microscopic level. Electron tomography allows for high resolution 3D visualization of lamellar body fusion pores. Intraalveolar surfactant subtypes can be quantitated in situ, thus reflecting the functional state of the intraalveolar surfactant pool. By immunoelectron microscopy, surfactant protein distribution can be analyzed. These methods allow for a comprehensive quantitative analysis of surfactant (ultra-)structure. Here, we give an overview on the analysis of the normal and disordered surfactant system by electron microscopy and stereology.

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