Chemical and cryo-collection of muscle samples for transmission electron microscopy using Methacarn and dimethyl sulfoxide

Dylan Wilburn, Emma Fletcher, Ahmed Ismaeel, Dimitrios Miserlis, Bernd Zechmann, Panagiotis Koutakis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Muscle samples are commonly chemically fixed or frozen immediately upon collection for biochemical and morphological analysis. Certain fixatives such as glutaraldehyde and osmium tetroxide are widely used for transmission electron microscopy (TEM) and lead to adequate preservation of muscle ultrastructure, but do not preserve the molecular features of samples. Methacarn is suggested to be a preferable chemical fixative for light microscopy because it maintains immunohistological features of samples. However, the efficacy of methacarn to preserve ultrastructural features as a primary chemical fixative for TEM is currently unclear. Additionally, cryo-preservation of samples for TEM analysis involves freezing processes such as plunge freezing, slam freezing, or high pressure freezing. High pressure freezing is the considered the gold standard but requires costly equipment and may not be a viable option for many labs collecting tissue samples from remote locations. Dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) is a commonly used cryoprotectant that may allow for better structural preservation of samples by impairing ice damage that occurs during plunge/snap freezing. We aimed to assess the effectiveness of methacarn as a primary chemical fixative and determine the effect of pre-coating samples with DMSO before plunge/snap freezing tissues to be prepared for TEM. The micrographs of the methcarn-fixed samples indicate a loss of Z-disk integrity, intermyofibrillar space, mitochondria structure, and lipids. Ultimately, methacarn is not a viable primary fixative for tissue sample preparation for TEM. Similarly, liquid nitrogen freezing of samples wrapped in aluminum foil produced non-uniform Z-disk alignments that appeared smeared with swollen mitochondria. DMSO coating before freezing appears to lessen the alterations to contractile and mitochondrial morphological structures. DMSO appears to be useful for preserving the ultrastructure of sarcomeres if samples are covered before freezing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number113600
StatePublished - Nov 2022


  • Cryoprotectant
  • Freezing fixation
  • Muscle
  • Sample preparation
  • Sarcomere
  • Transmission electron microscopy
  • Ultrastructure

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Electronic, Optical and Magnetic Materials
  • Atomic and Molecular Physics, and Optics
  • Instrumentation


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