Super-resolution imaging of subcortical white matter using stochastic optical reconstruction microscopy (STORM) and super-resolution optical fluctuation imaging (SOFI)

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The spatial resolution of light microscopy is limited by the wavelength of visible light (the ‘diffraction limit’, approximately 250 nm). Resolution of sub-cellular structures, smaller than this limit, is possible with super resolution methods such as stochastic optical reconstruction microscopy (STORM) and super-resolution optical fluctuation imaging (SOFI). We aimed to resolve subcellular structures (axons, myelin sheaths and astrocytic processes) within intact white matter, using STORM and SOFI.


Standard cryostat-cut sections of subcortical white matter from donated human brain tissue and from adult rat and mouse brain were labelled, using standard immunohistochemical markers (neurofilament-H, myelin-associated glycoprotein, glial fibrillary acidic protein, GFAP). Image sequences were processed for STORM (effective pixel size 8–32 nm) and for SOFI (effective pixel size 80 nm).


In human, rat and mouse, subcortical white matter high-quality images for axonal neurofilaments, myelin sheaths and filamentous astrocytic processes were obtained. In quantitative measurements, STORM consistently underestimated width of axons and astrocyte processes (compared with electron microscopy measurements). SOFI provided more accurate width measurements, though with somewhat lower spatial resolution than STORM.


Super resolution imaging of intact cryo-cut human brain tissue is feasible. For quantitation, STORM can under-estimate diameters of thin fluorescent objects. SOFI is more robust. The greatest limitation for super-resolution imaging in brain sections is imposed by sample preparation. We anticipate that improved strategies to reduce autofluorescence and to enhance fluorophore performance will enable rapid expansion of this approach.

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