Cryo-fluorescence microscopy of high-pressure frozen C. elegans enables correlative FIB-SEM imaging of targeted embryonic stages in the intact worm

Methods Cell Biol. 2021;162:223-252. doi: 10.1016/bs.mcb.2020.09.009. Epub 2020 Nov 4.


Rapidly changing features in an intact biological sample are challenging to efficiently trap and image by conventional electron microscopy (EM). For example, the model organism C. elegans is widely used to study embryonic development and differentiation, yet the fast kinetics of cell division makes the targeting of specific developmental stages for ultrastructural study difficult. We set out to image the condensed metaphase chromosomes of an early embryo in the intact worm in 3-D. To achieve this, one must capture this transient structure, then locate and subsequently image the corresponding volume by EM in the appropriate context of the organism, all while minimizing a variety of artifacts. In this methodological advance, we report on the high-pressure freezing of spatially constrained whole C. elegans hermaphrodites in a combination of cryoprotectants to identify embryonic cells in metaphase by in situ cryo-fluorescence microscopy. The screened worms were then freeze substituted, resin embedded and further prepared such that the targeted cells were successfully located and imaged by focused ion beam scanning electron microscopy (FIB-SEM). We reconstructed the targeted metaphase structure and also correlated an intriguing punctate fluorescence signal to a H2B-enriched putative polar body autophagosome in an adjacent cell undergoing telophase. By enabling cryo-fluorescence microscopy of thick samples, our workflow can thus be used to trap and image transient structures in C. elegans or similar organisms in a near-native state, and then reconstruct their corresponding cellular architectures at high resolution and in 3-D by correlative volume EM.

Keywords: C. elegans; CLEM; Correlative microscopy; Cryo-LM; Cryo-fluorescence microscopy; FIB-SEM; HPF; Polar body; Volume EM; vEM.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Caenorhabditis elegans*
  • Cryoelectron Microscopy
  • Freezing
  • Imaging, Three-Dimensional*
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Microscopy, Electron, Scanning
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence