EyeCi: Optical clearing and imaging of immunolabeled mouse eyes using light-sheet fluorescence microscopy

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Immunofluorescent imaging is an indispensable technique to study morphology and molecular aspects in tissues. Classical approaches make it necessary to cut physical sections of tissue samples to overcome the limited penetration depth of light, restricting the available information to two dimensions. Recent advances in tissue-clearing techniques enable imaging of fluorescently labeled organs and entire organisms on a cellular level in three dimensions without the need of sectioning. Volume imaging of immunolabeled and cleared tissues started a new era of systems biology, because these techniques provide information on connectivity and circuits, especially in structures with projections in three dimensions such as vascular or nervous systems. The variety of published clearing protocols allows the imaging of every organ with a single exception: the eye. Whole-eye clearing approaches were unsuccessful so far due to the strong pigmentation of the retinal pigment epithelium. Here, we present a new protocol that combines a highly effective melanin bleaching step with solvent-based clearing, termed EyeCi. The protocol is compatible with immunolabeling as demonstrated by the visualization of ocular and retinal vasculature in the intact mouse eye by means of light-sheet fluorescence microscopy. This novel protocol is rapid (1 week) and inexpensive, hence allowing high-throughput, high resolution analysis of vascular architecture of healthy and diseased eyes, in its native, three-dimensional organization within intact eyeballs. Volume imaging of whole cleared eyeballs further enables three-dimensional surface reconstruction and automated quantification of choroidal and retinal vasculature extending ocular imaging to a global level. Thus, EyeCi represents an extension to state-of-the-art light microscopy techniques and is potentially suitable for the investigation of vascular leakage or neovascularization processes.Graphical abstractHighlightsEyeCi enables immunolabeling and clearing of pigmented mouse eyes.CD31 immunofluorescence labeling imaged by light-sheet fluorescence microscopy.Characteristic blood vessel structures could be identified in cleared mouse eyes.Automated quantification of retinal capillaries.Choroidal and retinal vasculature in 3D organization within intact eyeballs.

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