Optical clearing for improved contrast in second harmonic generation imaging of skeletal muscle

Biophys J. 2006 Jan 1;90(1):328-39. doi: 10.1529/biophysj.105.066944. Epub 2005 Oct 7.


Using second harmonic generation (SHG) imaging microscopy, we have examined the effect of optical clearing with glycerol to achieve greater penetration into specimens of skeletal muscle tissue. We find that treatment with 50% glycerol results in a 2.5-fold increase in achievable SHG imaging depth. Signal processing analyses using fast Fourier transform and continuous wavelet transforms show quantitatively that the periodicity of the sarcomere structure is unaltered by the clearing process and that image quality deep in the tissue is improved with clearing. Comparison of the SHG angular polarization dependence also shows no change in the supramolecular organization of acto-myosin complexes. By contrast, identical treatment of mouse tendon (collagen based) resulted in a strong decrease in SHG response. We suggest that the primary mechanism of optical clearing in muscle with glycerol treatment results from the reduction of cytoplasmic protein concentration and concomitant decrease in the secondary inner filter effect on the SHG signal. The lack of glycerol concentration dependence on the imaging depth indicates that refractive index matching plays only a minor role in the optical clearing of muscle. SHG and optical clearing may provide an ideal mechanism to study physiology in highly scattering skeletal or cardiac muscle tissue with significantly improved depth of penetration and achievable imaging depth.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anisotropy
  • Biophysics / methods*
  • Collagen / chemistry
  • Contrast Media / pharmacology
  • Cytoplasm / metabolism
  • Fourier Analysis
  • Glycerol / chemistry
  • Image Enhancement
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Mice
  • Microscopy / methods*
  • Models, Biological
  • Models, Statistical
  • Muscle, Skeletal / metabolism*
  • Myocardium / metabolism
  • Sarcomeres / metabolism
  • Scattering, Radiation
  • Time Factors


  • Contrast Media
  • Collagen
  • Glycerol