An alternative means of retaining ocular structure and improving immunoreactivity for light microscopy studies

Ning Sun, Brad Shibata, John F. Hess, Paul G FitzGerald

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Purpose: Several properties of ocular tissue make fixation for light microscopy problematic. Because the eye is spherical, immersion fixation necessarily results in a temporal gradient of fixation, with surfaces fixing more rapidly and thoroughly than interior structures. The problem is compounded by the fact that the layers of the eye wall are compositionally quite different, resulting in different degrees of fixation-induced shrinkage and distortion. Collectively, these result in non-uniform preservation, as well as buckling and/or retinal detachment. This gradient problem is most acute for the lens, where the density of proteins can delay fixation of the central lens for days, and where the fixation gradient parallels the age gradient of lens cells, which complicates data interpretation. Our goal was to identify a simple method for minimizing some of the problems arising from immersion fixation, which avoided covalent modification of antigens, retained high quality structure, and maintained tissue in a state that is amenable to common cytochemical techniques. Methods: A simple and inexpensive derivative of the freeze-substitution approach was developed and compared to fixation by immersion in formalin. Preservation of structure, immunoreactivity, GFP and tdTomato fluorescence, lectin reactivity, outer segment auto fluorescence, Click-iT chemistry, compatibility with in situ hybdrdization, and the ability to rehydrate eyes after fixation by freeze substitution for subsequent cryo sectioning were assessed. Results: An inexpensive and simple variant of the freeze substitution approach provides excellent structural preservation for light microscopy, and essentially eliminates ocular buckling, retinal detachment, and outer segment auto-fluorescence, without covalent modification of tissue antigens. The approach shows a notable improvement in preservation of immunoreactivity. TdTomato intrinsic fluorescence is also preserved, as is compatibility with in situ hybridization, lectin labeling, and the Click-iT chemistry approach to labeling the thymidine analog EdU. On the negative side, this approach dramatically reduced intrinsic GFP fluorescence. Conclusions: A simple, cost-effective derivative of the freeze substitution process is described that is of particular value in the study of rodent or other small eyes, where fixation gradients, globe buckling, retinal detachment, differential shrinkage, autofluorescence, and tissue immunoreactivity have been problematic.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)428-442
Number of pages15
JournalMolecular Vision
StatePublished - Apr 16 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ophthalmology


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