Ultrastructural examination of cells and tissues by electron microscopy (EM) yields detailed information on subcellular structures. However, EM is typically restricted to small fields of view at high magnification; this makes quantifying events in multiple large-area sample sections extremely difficult. Even when combining light microscopy (LM) with EM (correlated LM and EM: CLEM) to find areas of interest, the labeling of molecules is still a challenge. We present a new genetically encoded probe for CLEM, named “FLIPPER”, which facilitates quantitative analysis of ultrastructural features in cells. FLIPPER consists of a fluorescent protein (cyan, green, orange, or red) for LM visualization, fused to a peroxidase allowing visualization of targets at the EM level. The use of FLIPPER is straightforward and because the module is completely genetically encoded, cells can be optimally prepared for EM examination. We use FLIPPER to quantify cellular morphology at the EM level in cells expressing a normal and disease-causing point-mutant cell-surface protein called EpCAM (epithelial cell adhesion molecule). The mutant protein is retained in the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) and could therefore alter ER function and morphology. To reveal possible ER alterations, cells were co-transfected with color-coded full-length or mutant EpCAM and a FLIPPER targeted to the ER. CLEM examination of the mixed cell population allowed color-based cell identification, followed by an unbiased quantitative analysis of the ER ultrastructure by EM. Thus, FLIPPER combines bright fluorescent proteins optimized for live imaging with high sensitivity for EM labeling, thereby representing a promising tool for CLEM.

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doi.org/10.1007/s00441-015-2142-7, hdl.handle.net/1765/91717
Cell and Tissue Research
Erasmus MC: University Medical Center Rotterdam