Immersion Fixation and Staining of Multicubic Millimeter Volumes for Electron Microscopy-Based Connectomics of Human Brain Biopsies

Biol Psychiatry. 2023 Aug 15;94(4):352-360. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2023.01.025. Epub 2023 Feb 3.


Connectomics allows mapping of cells and their circuits at the nanometer scale in volumes of approximately 1 mm3. Given that the human cerebral cortex can be 3 mm in thickness, larger volumes are required. Larger-volume circuit reconstructions of human brain are limited by 1) the availability of fresh biopsies; 2) the need for excellent preservation of ultrastructure, including extracellular space; and 3) the requirement of uniform staining throughout the sample, among other technical challenges. Cerebral cortical samples from neurosurgical patients are available owing to lead placement for deep brain stimulation. Described here is an immersion fixation, heavy metal staining, and tissue processing method that consistently provides excellent ultrastructure throughout human and rodent surgical brain samples of volumes 2 × 2 × 2 mm3 and up to 37 mm3 with one dimension ≤2 mm. This method should allow synapse-level circuit analysis in samples from patients with psychiatric and neurologic disorders.

Keywords: Brain biopsy; Connectomics; Electron microscopy; Human cortex; Immersion fixation; Osmium staining.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Biopsy
  • Brain
  • Connectome* / methods
  • Humans
  • Immersion
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Staining and Labeling