High Resolution Helium Ion Scanning Microscopy of the Rat Kidney
Helium ion scanning microscopy is a novel imaging technology with the potential to provide sub-nanometer resolution images of uncoated biological tissues. So far, however, it has been used mainly in materials science applications. Here, we took advantage of helium ion microscopy to explore the epithelium of the rat kidney with unsurpassed image quality and detail. In addition, we evaluated different tissue preparation methods for their ability to preserve tissue architecture. We found that high contrast, high resolution imaging of the renal tubule surface is possible with a relatively simple processing procedure that consists of transcardial perfusion with aldehyde fixatives, vibratome tissue sectioning, tissue dehydration with graded methanol solutions and careful critical point drying. Coupled with the helium ion system, fine details such as membrane texture and membranous nanoprojections on the glomerular podocytes were visualized, and pores within the filtration slit diaphragm could be seen in much greater detail than in previous scanning EM studies. In the collecting duct, the extensive and striking apical microplicae of the intercalated cells were imaged without the shrunken or distorted appearance that is typical with conventional sample processing and scanning electron microscopy. Membrane depressions visible on principal cells suggest possible endo- or exocytotic events, and central cilia on these cells were imaged with remarkable preservation and clarity. We also demonstrate the use of colloidal gold probes for highlighting specific cell-surface proteins and find that 15 nm gold labels are practical and easily distinguishable, indicating that external labels of various sizes can be used to detect multiple targets in the same tissue. We conclude that this technology represents a technical breakthrough in imaging the topographical ultrastructure of animal tissues. Its use in future studies should allow the study of fine cellular details and provide significant advances in our understanding of cell surface structures and membrane organization.