Using transmission electron microscopy and 3View to determine collagen fibril size and three-dimensional organization.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  • External authors:
  • Tobias Starborg
  • Nicholas S Kalson
  • Yinhui Lu
  • David F Holmes


Collagen fibrils are the major tensile element in vertebrate tissues, in which they occur as ordered bundles in the extracellular matrix. Abnormal fibril assembly and organization results in scarring, fibrosis, poor wound healing and connective tissue diseases. Transmission electron microscopy (TEM) is used to assess the formation of the fibrils, predominantly by measuring fibril diameter. Here we describe a protocol for measuring fibril diameter as well as fibril volume fraction, mean fibril length, fibril cross-sectional shape and fibril 3D organization, all of which are major determinants of tissue function. Serial-section TEM (ssTEM) has been used to visualize fibril 3D organization in vivo. However, serial block face-scanning electron microscopy (SBF-SEM) has emerged as a time-efficient alternative to ssTEM. The protocol described below is suitable for preparing tissues for TEM and SBF-SEM (by 3View). We describe how to use 3View for studying collagen fibril organization in vivo and show how to find and track individual fibrils. The overall time scale is ~8 d from isolating the tissue to having a 3D image stack.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1433-1448
Number of pages15
JournalNature protocols
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 27 Jun 2013