Send to

Choose Destination
PLoS One. 2013;8(1):e53753. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0053753. Epub 2013 Jan 23.

Optical histology: a method to visualize microvasculature in thick tissue sections of mouse brain.

Author information

Beckman Laser Institute, University of California Irvine, Irvine, California, United States of America.



The microvasculature is the network of blood vessels involved in delivering nutrients and gases necessary for tissue survival. Study of the microvasculature often involves immunohistological methods. While useful for visualizing microvasculature at the µm scale in specific regions of interest, immunohistology is not well suited to visualize the global microvascular architecture in an organ. Hence, use of immunohistology precludes visualization of the entire microvasculature of an organ, and thus impedes study of global changes in the microvasculature that occur in concert with changes in tissue due to various disease states. Therefore, there is a critical need for a simple, relatively rapid technique that will facilitate visualization of the microvascular network of an entire tissue.


The systemic vasculature of a mouse is stained with the fluorescent lipophilic dye DiI using a method called "vessel painting". The brain, or other organ of interest, is harvested and fixed in 4% paraformaldehyde. The organ is then sliced into 1 mm sections and optically cleared, or made transparent, using FocusClear, a proprietary optical clearing agent. After optical clearing, the DiI-labeled tissue microvasculature is imaged using confocal fluorescence microscopy and adjacent image stacks tiled together to produce a depth-encoded map of the microvasculature in the tissue slice. We demonstrated that the use of optical clearing enhances both the tissue imaging depth and the estimate of the vascular density. Using our "optical histology" technique, we visualized microvasculature in the mouse brain to a depth of 850 µm.


Presented here are maps of the microvasculature in 1 mm thick slices of mouse brain. Using combined optical clearing and optical imaging techniques, we devised a methodology to enhance the visualization of the microvasculature in thick tissues. We believe this technique could potentially be used to generate a three-dimensional map of the microvasculature in an entire organ.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Public Library of Science Icon for PubMed Central
Loading ...
Support Center