Cathodoluminescence (CL) is the light that is emitted from a material irradiated by an electron beam. The present study was undertaken to show the applicability to biological studies of a scanning electron microscope (SEM) equipped with a high-sensitive cathodoluminescence detection system. For this purpose, we injected inorganic fluorescent powders (P43) suspended in phosphate buffered saline into rat blood circulation, fixed the animals with glutaraldehyde within a day, and observed the hepatic tissues with a SEM. Our instrument enabled the simultaneous collection of both secondary electron (SE) and CL images of these tissues. Backscattered electron (BSE) images of the same portion were also able to be obtained with this microscope. SE and BSE images clearly showed the three-dimensional structure of the hepatic tissues including hepatocytes, Kupffer cells, Ito cells, and sinusoidal epithelial cells, while CL images visualized cathodoluminescence signals emitted from P43 as bright spots. We observed non-coated tissues under a low-vacuum condition and metal-coated tissues under a high-vacuum condition, and found that the high-vacuum observation of metal-coated tissues provided high quality CL images of P43 in the Kupffer cells. The superimposition of the CL images onto the corresponding SE or BSE images revealed that bright spots in the CL images were produced by the fluorescent powders uptaken by Kupffer cells. These findings indicate that the detection of CL as well as SE or BSE signals by SEM all provide us with useful information on the distribution of fluorescent tracers in tissues and cells in three-dimensional images.
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