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Ultrastruct Pathol. 2010 Aug;34(4):226-31. doi: 10.3109/01913121003725721.

Fibrin mimics neutrophil extracellular traps in SEM.

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Department of Light & Electron Microscopy, Organismic Biology, University of Salzburg, Salzburg, Austria.


Neutrophil extracellular traps (NETs) are extracellular web-like structures produced by activated polymorphonuclear neutrophils. NETs kill bacteria extracellularly, but their role in human pathology remains largely unclear. One possible way of studying NETs is through the SEM approach. However, web-like structures observed with SEM in sites of inflammation have been interpreted either as NETs or as fibrin. Thus, the question arises whether a reliable SEM discrimination between NETs and fibrin is at all possible. NET samples were collected as purulent crevicular exudate from periodontal pockets. DNase-digested controls for SEM were employed to demonstrate the DNA backbone and immuno-staining for confocal laser scanning microscopy was used to show the citrullinated histones of NETs. Blood clot samples were treated in the same way as the exudate samples to demonstrate that fibrin and fibrinolysis can mimic NETs and DNA digestion, respectively. No discrimination between fibrin and NETs based on morphological criteria in SEM was possible. Furthermore, only a vague distinction between DNA digestion and fibrinolysis could be made. These findings unambiguously indicate that the discrimination between NETs and fibrin by means of SEM is untrustworthy for samples of inflammatory exudate.

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