3D Imaging of mammalian cells with ion-abrasion scanning electron microscopy

Jurgen A.W. Heymann, Dan Shi, Sang Kim, Donald Bliss, Jacqueline L.S. Milne, Sriram Subramaniam

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

90 Scopus citations


Understanding the hierarchical organization of molecules and organelles within the interior of large eukaryotic cells is a challenge of fundamental interest in cell biology. We are using ion-abrasion scanning electron microscopy (IA-SEM) to visualize this hierarchical organization in an approach that combines focused ion-beam milling with scanning electron microscopy. Here, we extend our previous studies on imaging yeast cells to image subcellular architecture in human melanoma cells and melanocytes at resolutions as high as ∼6 and ∼20 nm in the directions parallel and perpendicular, respectively, to the direction of ion-beam milling. The 3D images demonstrate the striking spatial relationships between specific organelles such as mitochondria and membranes of the endoplasmic reticulum, and the distribution of unique cellular components such as melanosomes. We also show that 10 nm-sized gold particles and quantum dot particles with 7 nm-sized cores can be detected in single cross-sectional images. IA-SEM is thus a useful tool for imaging large mammalian cells in their entirety at resolutions in the nanometer range.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-7
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Structural Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Apr 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Automated 3D imaging
  • Cancer imaging
  • Dual beam microscopy
  • Melanoma detection
  • Mitochondrial architecture

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Structural Biology


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