New imaging method helps scientists understand cells

Researchers at Gothenburg University in Sweden have further developed a new method for imaging individual cells.

A team from the university’s chemistry department used a new sample holder to allow them to take pictures showing the molecules inside or on the surface of cells rather than just their outline – something that is impossible with a normal microscope.

This could help scientists to better understand the chemical processes that take place in cells and the role they play in the body.

The holder enabled the researchers to use special measuring equipment to distinguish the various parts inside the cells, which are just one or two hundredths of a millimetre in diameter.

‘The new sample holder is filled with holds cells in solution,’ said researcher Ingela Lanekoff.

‘We then rapidly freeze the sample down to -196°C, which enables us to get a snapshot of where the various molecules are at the moment of freezing.

‘Using this technique we can produce images that show not only the outline of the cell’s contours, but also the molecules that are there, and where they are located.’

Imaging the molecules in the membrane of single individual cells’s membrane enables researchers to measure changes in its chemical composition.

Lanekoff has used the technique to assess the way brain cells communicate through chemical signals and this is dependent on the molecules in the cell’s membrane

She found that rate of communication between brain cells is affected by a change of less than one per cent in the quantities of a specific molecule.

Understanding the chemical composition of brain cells could therefore help explain the mechanisms behind learning and memory.