We have developed a technique called quantitative electron spectroscopic tomography (QuEST) for imaging the three-dimensional distribution of specific chemical elements in cells. A 300 kV field-emission transmission electron microscope (TEM) equipped with an advanced imaging filter is used to collect a series of 2-D elemental maps for a range of specimen tilt angles. Acquisition is controlled by means of flexible computer scripts that enable correction for specimen drift and defocus between successive tilt angles. Projected 2-D elemental distributions are obtained by acquiring images above and below characteristic core-edges in the energy-loss spectrum and by subtracting the extrapolated background intensity at each pixel. We have implemented and tested a dual-axis simultaneous iterative reconstruction technique (SIRT) to reconstruct the 3-D elemental distribution. By applying a thickness correction algorithm that takes into account plural inelastic scattering, and by incorporating scattering cross sections for excitation of core-shell electrons, we have shown that it is possible to quantify the elemental distributions in terms of the number of atoms per voxel. By using correlative light microscopy and 3-D phosphorus imaging, experiments are in progress to map the distribution of DNA in specific domains of cell nuclei, where macromolecular complexes are involved in regulation of genes. We have demonstrated the feasibility of using a dual fluoro-nanogold labeled antibody to image specific proteins contained within the chromatin insulator body complex. The proteins can be tracked in the optical microscope using the fluorescence tag, after which the gold nanoparticle tags can be visualized in 3D using electron tomography in the scanning transmission electron microscope (STEM) mode. Then EFTEM tomography is used to determine the distribution of DNA in the vicinity of the insulator body complex. The application of the QuEST technique is limited by radiation damage, which has the potential to alter the elemental composition as well as the specimen morphology, and we have performed a systematic study to determine the effect of electron dose. Electron tomograms obtained from unstained high-pressure frozen and freeze-substituted sections of Caenorhabditis elegans showed that it is feasible to obtain useful 3D phosphorus and nitrogen maps, and thus to reveal quantitative information about the subcellular distributions of nucleic acids and proteins. We have also applied energy-filtered electron microscopy to elucidate contrast mechanisms in brain MRI. Recent advances in high field MRI have dramatically improved the visualization of human brain anatomy in vivo. For example, in cortical gray matter, strong contrast variations have been observed that appear to reflect the local laminar architecture. This contrast has been attributed to subtle variations in the magnetic properties of brain tissue, possibly reflecting varying iron content. To establish the origin of this contrast, MRI data of postmortem brain in the region of the occipital cortex were correlated with optical images, electron micrographs and electron spectroscopic images. The results showed that iron is distributed over laminae in a pattern that correlates with the dominant source of the observed MRI contrast in the line of Gennari. In particular, the iron was contained in dense particles containing approximately 1,700 Fe atoms, which could be identified as ferritin cores.

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National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering
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Mayorova, Tatiana D; Smith, Carolyn L; Hammar, Katherine et al. (2018) Cells containing aragonite crystals mediate responses to gravity in Trichoplax adhaerens (Placozoa), an animal lacking neurons and synapses. PLoS One 13:e0190905
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