Improved methods for preserving macromolecular structures and visualizing them by fluorescence and scanning electron microscopy

Scanning Microsc. 1995 Sep;9(3):843-57; discussion 858-60.


To determine the optimal procedures to preserve cytoskeletal and other macromolecular structures for microscopic studies we have evaluated the effects of various methods to extract cultured cells. In this report, we compare results using different fixatives, crosslinking reagents, and permeabilization methods on (1) the labeling of cells for fluorescence microscopy with phalloidin or antibody against tubulin; and (2) the morphological preservation of macromolecular structures for scanning electron microscopy. Maximal labeling of F-actin with phalloidin was obtained by fixing cells in 4% paraformaldehyde (PFA) and labeling the unextracted cells with methanolic phalloidin, whereas maximal labeling of tubulin required prefixation with either PFA or the bifunctional protein crosslinking reagent, dithiobis (succinimidylpropionate) (DSP) and extraction with ethanol or Triton in a high salt buffer. However, for both qualitative and quantitative light and electron microscopic studies of intracellular macromolecular structures, prefixation with DSP and extracting with Triton X-100 in a stabilizing buffer is the overall method of choice for both labeling and morphological studies. Although other methods provide maximal labeling or preservation of specific structures, this method provides excellent preservation of morphological structure while allowing proteins to be preserved and labeled by specific probes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Actins / analysis*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Humans
  • Microscopy, Electron, Scanning / methods*
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence / methods*
  • Tissue Fixation
  • Tubulin / analysis*


  • Actins
  • Tubulin