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Optical clearing in dense connective tissues to visualize cellular connectivity in situ

PLoS ONE

 

Abstract

Visualizing the three-dimensional morphology and spatial patterning of cells embedded deep within dense connective tissues of the musculoskeletal system has been possible only by utilizing destructive techniques. Here we utilize fructose-based clearing solutions to image cell connectivity and deep tissue-scale patterning in situ by standard confocal microscopy. Optical clearing takes advantage of refractive index matching of tissue and the embedding medium to visualize light transmission through a broad range of bovine and whole mount murine tissues, including cartilage, bone, and ligament, of the head and hindlimb. Using non-destructive methods, we show for the first time intercellular chondrocyte connections throughout the bulk of cartilage, and we reveal in situ patterns of osteocyte processes and the lacunar-canalicular system deep within mineralized cortical bone. Optical clearing of connective tissues is expected to find broad application for the study of cell responses in normal physiology and disease pathology.

 

 

 

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