Letter | Published:

A new method of scanning electron microscopy for imaging biological tissues

Naturevolume 302pages522523 (1983) | Download Citation



The scanning electron microscope (SEM) has proved of little value in the examination of material prepared for light microscopic histology. One of the chief reasons for this is that the secondary electron signal used for image formation in routine scanning microscopy derives from the surface of the specimen. In the case of histological material this surface is one which has been severely distorted by processing and cutting procedures. Light microscopy sections can be usefully studied in the SEM if the signal used to form the image derives from a considerable portion of the thickness of the section. Thus the backscattered electron (BSE) image has been successfully used in studying the distribution of dense material or densely staining components several micrometres deep to the surface of dried sections1. Such sections are, however, usually mounted on low density (poorly BSE reflecting) non-transparent substrates such as beryllium or carbon, so that matching light microscopy of the same samples is not possible. We report here a method by which histological sections mounted on glass slides can be imaged in the SEM at a resolution higher than that obtained using conventional light microscopy. The method exploits the facts that the ordinary, cheap light microscope slide is strongly cathodoluminescent, yet the standard histological (7 µm) section is of such a mass thickness that it absorbs a significant proportion of electrons with energies (5–20 keV) usually used in biological SEM. Thus the measure of the glass cathodoluminescence signal is the measure of the electron flux passing through the specimen.

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  1. 1

    Becker, R. P. & Geoffroy, J. S. Scanning Electron Microscopy 1981 Pt IV, 195–206 (SEM Inc., Chicago, 1981).

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  1. Department of Anatomy and Embryology, University College London, Gower Street, London, WC1E 6BT, UK

    • A. Boyde
    •  & S. A. Reid


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