Cryofixing single cells and multicellular specimens enhances structure and immunocytochemistry for light microscopy. Academic Article uri icon


  • Cryofixation is widely held to be superior to chemical fixation for preserving cell structure; however, the use of cryofixation has been limited chiefly to electron microscopy. To see if cryofixation would improve sample structure or antigenicity as observed through the light microscope, we cryofixed Nicotiana alata and Lilium longiflorum pollen tubes and Tradescantia virginina stamen hairs by plunge freezing. After freeze-substitution, and embedding in butylmethylmethacrylate, we found using the light microscope that the superiority of cryofixation over chemical fixation was obvious. Cryofixation, unlike chemical fixation, did not distort cell morphology and preserved microtubule and actin arrays in a form closely resembling that of living cells. Additionally, to test further the usefulness of cryofixation for light microscopy, we studied the appearance of cells and the retention of antigenicity in plunge-frozen multicellular organ. Roots of Arabidopsis thaliana were either chemically fixed or plunge frozen, and then embedded in the removable methacrylate resin used above. We found that plunge freezing preserved cell morphology far better than did chemical fixation, and likewise improved the appearance of both actin and microtubule arrays. Plunge-frozen roots also had cells with more life-like cytoplasm than those of chemically fixed roots, as assessed with toluidine-blue staining or high-resolution Nomarski optics. Damage from ice crystal formation could not be resolved through the light microscope, even in the interior of the root, 40-75 microns from the surface. We suggest that plunge freezing would enhance many investigations at the light microscope level, including those of multicellular organs, where damage from ice crystals may be less severe than artefacts from chemical fixation.

publication date

  • May 1996