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Am J Physiol Heart Circ Physiol. 2013 Jan 1;304(1):H1-11. doi: 10.1152/ajpheart.00499.2012. Epub 2012 Oct 19.

The scanning ion conductance microscope for cellular physiology.

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Imperial College London, National Heart and Lung Institute, Imperial Centre for Experimental and Translational Medicine, London, United Kingdom.


The quest for nonoptical imaging methods that can surmount light diffraction limits resulted in the development of scanning probe microscopes. However, most of the existing methods are not quite suitable for studying biological samples. The scanning ion conductance microscope (SICM) bridges the gap between the resolution capabilities of atomic force microscope and scanning electron microscope and functional capabilities of conventional light microscope. A nanopipette mounted on a three-axis piezo-actuator, scans a sample of interest and ion current is measured between the pipette tip and the sample. The feedback control system always keeps a certain distance between the sample and the pipette so the pipette never touches the sample. At the same time pipette movement is recorded and this generates a three-dimensional topographical image of the sample surface. SICM represents an alternative to conventional high-resolution microscopy, especially in imaging topography of live biological samples. In addition, the nanopipette probe provides a host of added modalities, for example using the same pipette and feedback control for efficient approach and seal with the cell membrane for ion channel recording. SICM can be combined in one instrument with optical and fluorescent methods and allows drawing structure-function correlations. It can also be used for precise mechanical force measurements as well as vehicle to apply pressure with precision. This can be done on living cells and tissues for prolonged periods of time without them loosing viability. The SICM is a multifunctional instrument, and it is maturing rapidly and will open even more possibilities in the near future.

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