Serial block face scanning electron microscopy for the study of cardiac muscle ultrastructure at nanoscale resolutions.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Electron microscopy techniques have made a significant contribution towards understanding muscle physiology since the 1950s. Subsequent advances in hardware and software have led to major breakthroughs in terms of image resolution as well as the ability to generate three-dimensional (3D) data essential for linking structure to function and dysfunction. In this methodological review we consider the application of a relatively new technique, serial block face scanning electron microscopy (SBF-SEM), for the study of cardiac muscle morphology. Employing SBF-SEM we have generated 3D data for cardiac myocytes within the myocardium with a voxel size of ~15 nm in the X-Y plane and 50 nm in the Z-direction. We describe how SBF-SEM can be used in conjunction with selective staining techniques to reveal the 3D cellular organisation and the relationship between the t-tubule (t-t) and sarcoplasmic reticulum (SR) networks. These methods describe how SBF-SEM can be used to provide qualitative data to investigate the organisation of the dyad, a specialised calcium microdomain formed between the t-ts and the junctional portion of the SR (jSR). We further describe how image analysis methods may be applied to interrogate the 3D volumes to provide quantitative data such as the volume of the cell occupied by the t-t and SR membranes and the volumes and surface area of jSR patches. We consider the strengths and weaknesses of the SBF-SEM technique, pitfalls in sample preparation together with tips and methods for image analysis. By providing a 'big picture' view at high resolutions, in comparison to conventional confocal microscopy, SBF-SEM represents a paradigm shift for imaging cellular networks in their native environment.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of molecular and cellular cardiology
Early online date20 Aug 2014
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2014

Related information


View all