Zucker RM, Hunter S, Rogers JM. 1998. Confocal laser scanning microscopy of apoptosis in organogenesis-stage mouse embryos. Cytometry 33:348–354.
Background: After fluorochromes are incorporated into cells, tissues, and organisms, confocal microscopy can be used to observe three-dimensional structures. LysoTracker Red (LT) is a paraformaldehyde-fixable probe that concentrates into acidic compartments of cells and indicates regions of high lysosomal activity and phagocytosis, both of which correlate to apoptotic activity. Thus, LT is a good indicator of apoptosis visualized by confocal microscopy. Results of LT staining of apoptotic cell death correlate well with other whole mount apoptosis vital dyes such as Nile blue sulfate and neutral red, with the added benefit of being fixable in situ. Nile blue sulfate can also be used as a non-vital, nonspecific dye to visualize general morphology. Stains such as acridine orange can be used for surface staining of fixed embryos to yield confocal images that are similar to scanning electron micrographs.
Methods: Mouse embryos were stained with LT, fixed with paraformaldehyde/glutaraldehyde, dehydrated with methanol (MEOH), and cleared with benzyl alcohol/benzyl benzoate (BABB). Following this treatment, the tissues were nearly transparent. Embryos are mounted on depression slides, and serial sections are imaged by confocal microscopy, followed by 3-D reconstruction.
Results: Embryos or tissues as thick as 500 microns (μm) can be visualized after clearing with BABB. LysoTracker staining reveals apoptotic regions in organogenesis-stage mouse embryos. Morphological observation of tissue was facilitated by combining autofluorescence with Nile blue sulfate staining of fixed embryos or opaque surface staining with acridine orange staining.
Conclusions: The use of BABB for clearing LT vital-stained and fixed embryos matches the refractive index of the tissue to the suspending medium, allowing increased penetration of laser light in a confocal microscope. Nile blue sulfate used as a non-vital dye provides a nonspecific staining of fixed embryos that can then be cleared with methyl salicylate for confocal observation. Sample preparation and staining procedures described here, with optimization of confocal laser scanning microscopy, allow for the detection and visualization of morphological structure and apoptosis in embryos up to 500 μm thick, and stained specimens can be fixed and mounted on depression slides.