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J Electron Microsc Tech. 1988 May;9(1):65-82.

X-ray microanalysis of freeze-dried and frozen-hydrated cryosections.

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Max-Planck-Institut für Systemphysiologie, Dortmund, Federal Republic of Germany.


The elemental composition and the ultrastructure of biological cells were studied by scanning transmission electron microscopy (STEM) combined with energy dispersive X-ray microanalysis. The preparation technique involves cryofixation, cryoultramicrotomy, cryotransfer, and freeze-drying of samples. Freeze-dried cryosections 100-nm thick appeared to be appropriate for measuring the distribution of diffusible elements and water in different compartments of the cells. The lateral analytical resolution was less than 50 nm, depending on ice crystal damage and section thickness. The detection limit was in the range of 10 mmol/kg dry weight for all elements with an atomic number higher than 12; for sodium and magnesium the detection limits were about 30 and 20 mmol/kg dry weight, respectively. The darkfield intensity in STEM is linearly related to the mass thickness. Thus, it becomes possible to measure the water content in intracellular compartments by using the darkfield signal of the dry mass remaining after freeze-drying. By combining the X-ray microanalytical data expressed as dry weight concentrations with the measurements of the water content, physiologically more meaningful wet weight concentrations of elements were determined. In comparison to freeze-dried cryosections frozen-hydrated sections showed poor contrast and were very sensitive against radiation damage, resulting in mass loss. The high electron exposure required for recording X-ray spectra made reproducible microanalysis of ultrathin (about 100-nm thick) frozen-hydrated sections impossible. The mass loss could be reduced by carbon coating; however, the improvement achieved thus far is still insufficient for applications in X-ray microanalysis. Therefore, at present only bulk specimens or at least 1-micron thick sections can be used for X-ray microanalysis of frozen-hydrated biological samples.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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