A practical guide to optimization in X10 expansion microscopy

Nat Protoc. 2019 Mar;14(3):832-863. doi: 10.1038/s41596-018-0117-3.


Expansion microscopy is a relatively new approach to super-resolution imaging that uses expandable hydrogels to isotropically increase the physical distance between fluorophores in biological samples such as cell cultures or tissue slices. The classic gel recipe results in an expansion factor of ~4×, with a resolution of 60-80 nm. We have recently developed X10 microscopy, which uses a gel that achieves an expansion factor of ~10×, with a resolution of ~25 nm. Here, we provide a step-by-step protocol for X10 expansion microscopy. A typical experiment consists of seven sequential stages: (i) immunostaining, (ii) anchoring, (iii) polymerization, (iv) homogenization, (v) expansion, (vi) imaging, and (vii) validation. The protocol presented here includes recommendations for optimization, pitfalls and their solutions, and detailed guidelines that should increase reproducibility. Although our protocol focuses on X10 expansion microscopy, we detail which of these suggestions are also applicable to classic fourfold expansion microscopy. We exemplify our protocol using primary hippocampal neurons from rats, but our approach can be used with other primary cells or cultured cell lines of interest. This protocol will enable any researcher with basic experience in immunostainings and access to an epifluorescence microscope to perform super-resolution microscopy with X10. The procedure takes 3 d and requires ~5 h of actively handling the sample for labeling and expansion, and another ~3 h for imaging and analysis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Culture Techniques
  • Drosophila
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Microscopy / methods*
  • Quality Control
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Zebrafish