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Focussed Ion Beam Milling and Scanning Electron Microscopy of Brain Tissue

This protocol describes how biological samples, like brain tissue, can be imaged in three dimensions using the focussed ion beam/scanning electron microscope (FIB/SEM). The samples are fixed with aldehydes, heavy metal stained using osmium tetroxide and uranyl acetate. They are then dehydrated with alcohol and infiltrated with resin, which is then hardened. Using a light microscope and ultramicrotome with glass knives, a small block containing the region interest close to the surface is made. The block is then placed inside the FIB/SEM, and the ion beam used to roughly mill a vertical face along one side of the block, close to this region. Using backscattered electrons to image the underlying structures, a smaller face is then milled with a finer ion beam and the surface scrutinised more closely to determine the exact area of the face to be imaged and milled. The parameters of the microscope are then set so that the face is repeatedly milled and imaged so that serial images are collected through a volume of the block. The image stack will typically contain isotropic voxels with dimenions as small a 4 nm in each direction. This image quality in any imaging plane enables the user to analyse cell ultrastructure at any viewing angle within the image stack.


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Knott G, Rosset S and Cantoni M:
Focussed Ion Beam Milling and Scanning Electron Microscopy of Brain Tissue

J. Vis. Exp. 53: e2588 (2011); doi: 10.3791/2588