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Electron microscopy of high pressure frozen samples: Bridging the gap between cellular ultrastructure and atomic resolution.
Histochemistry and Cell Biology
Transmission electron microscopy has provided most of what is known about the ultrastructural organization of tissues, cells, and organelles. Due to tremendous advances in crystallography and magnetic resonance imaging, almost any protein can now be modeled at atomic resolution. To fully understand the workings of biological "nanomachines" it is necessary to obtain images of intact macromolecular assemblies in situ. Although the resolution power of electron microscopes is on the atomic scale, in biological samples artifacts introduced by aldehyde fixation, dehydration and staining, but also section thickness reduces it to some nanometers. Cryofixation by high pressure freezing circumvents many of the artifacts since it allows vitrifying biological samples of about 200 mum in thickness and immobilizes complex macromolecular assemblies in their native state in situ. To exploit the perfect structural preservation of frozen hydrated sections, sophisticated instruments are needed, e.g., high voltage electron microscopes equipped with precise goniometers that work at low temperature and digital cameras of high sensitivity and pixel number. With them, it is possible to generate high resolution tomograms, i.e., 3D views of subcellular structures. This review describes theory and applications of the high pressure cryofixation methodology and compares its results with those of conventional procedures. Moreover, recent findings will be discussed showing that molecular models of proteins can be fitted into depicted organellar ultrastructure of images of frozen hydrated sections. High pressure freezing of tissue is the base which may lead to precise models of macromolecular assemblies in situ, and thus to a better understanding of the function of complex cellular structures.
Animals, Artifacts, Cellular Structures/ultrastructure, Cryoelectron Microscopy, Cryopreservation, Electron Microscope Tomography, Frozen Sections, Humans, Image Processing, Computer-Assisted, Microscopy, Electron, Microscopy, Electron, Transmission, Microscopy, Immunoelectron, Models, Molecular, Pressure, Protein Conformation, Tissue Fixation
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