Combining laser scanning confocal microscopy and electron microscopy in studies of the insect nervous system

Leslie P. Tolbert, Xue Jun Sun, John G. Hildebrand

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Experimentally determining the synaptic interconnections between neurons in the nervous system is laborious and difficult in any animal species, but especially so in many invertebrates, including insects, where neurons generally have large, finely branching neuritic trees that form both pre- and postsynaptic specializations in dense neuropils with other neuritic trees. Electron microscopy is needed to identify synapses, but correlation of synapse type and location with the overall branching patterns of neurons, which are visible readily only in the light microscope or through extensive reconstruction of serial electron-microscope sections, is very difficult. In this paper, we present a simple method that we have developed (Sun et al. (1995) J. Histochem. Cytochem., 43: 329-335) that combines laser scanning confocal microscopy and electron microscopy for the study of synaptic relationships of neurons in the antennal lobe, the first central neuropil in the olfactory pathway, of the moth Manduca sexta. Briefly, neurons are labeled by intracellular injection with neurobiotin or biocytin, and then processed with a gold-particle tag for electron microscopic study and a fluorescent tag for confocal microscopy, and embedded in plastic. The fluorescence of the labeled neuron in the plastic blocks is imaged in three dimensions with laser scanning confocal microscopy and then the neuron is thin-sectioned at precisely chosen depths for electron microscopic study. The fluorescence pattern can be monitored repeatedly between episodes of thin-sectioning, and subtraction of a fluorescence image from the previous fluorescence image reveals which fluorescent processes have been sectioned. In this way, electron microscopic detail can be mapped onto a three-dimensional light microscopic image of the neuron.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)25-32
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Neuroscience Methods
Issue number1
StatePublished - Oct 21 1996


  • Antennal lobe
  • Electron microscopy
  • Fluorescence microscopy
  • Intracellular injection
  • Laser scanning confocal microscopy
  • Manduca sexta

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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