Studying synapses in human brain with array tomography and electron microscopy

Kevin R Kay, Colin Smith, Ann K Wright, Alberto Serrano-Pozo, Amy M Pooler, Robert Koffie, Mark E Bastin, Thomas H Bak, Sharon Abrahams, Katherine J Kopeikina, Declan McGuone, Matthew P Frosch, Thomas H Gillingwater, Bradley T Hyman, Tara Spires-Jones

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Postmortem studies of synapses in human brain are problematic because of the axial resolution limit of light microscopy and the difficulty in preserving and analyzing ultrastructure with electron microscopy (EM). Array tomography (AT) overcomes these problems by embedding autopsy tissue in resin and cutting ribbons of ultrathin serial sections. Ribbons are imaged with immunofluorescence, allowing high-throughput imaging of tens of thousands of synapses to assess synapse density and protein composition. The protocol takes ∼3 d per case, excluding image analysis, which is done at the end of the study. Parallel processing for transmission electron microscopy (TEM) using a protocol modified to preserve the structure in human samples allows complementary ultrastructural studies. Incorporation of AT and TEM into brain banking is a potent way of phenotyping synapses in well-characterized clinical cohorts in order to develop clinicopathological correlations at the synapse level. This will be important for research in neurodegenerative disease, developmental disease and psychiatric illness.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1366-1380
Number of pages15
JournalNature Protocols
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2013


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