Issue 1, 2019

Elemental characterisation of the pyramidal neuron layer within the rat and mouse hippocampus


A unique combination of sensitivity, resolution, and penetration make X-ray fluorescence imaging (XFI) ideally suited to investigate trace elemental distributions in the biological context. XFI has gained widespread use as an analytical technique in the biological sciences, and in particular enables exciting new avenues of research in the field of neuroscience. In this study, elemental mapping by XFI was applied to characterise the elemental content within neuronal cell layers of hippocampal sub-regions of mice and rats. Although classical histochemical methods for metal detection exist, such approaches are typically limited to qualitative analysis. Specifically, histochemical methods are not uniformly sensitive to all chemical forms of a metal, often displaying variable sensitivity to specific “pools” or chemical forms of a metal. In addition, histochemical methods require fixation and extensive chemical treatment of samples, creating the strong likelihood for metal redistribution, leaching, or contamination. Direct quantitative elemental mapping of total elemental pools, in situ within ex vivo tissue sections, without the need for chemical fixation or addition of staining reagents is not possible with traditional histochemical methods; however, such a capability, which is provided by XFI, can offer an enormous analytical advantage. The results we report herein demonstrate the analytical advantage of XFI elemental mapping for direct, label-free metal quantification, in situ within ex vivo brain tissue sections. Specifically, we definitively characterise for the first time, the abundance of Fe within the pyramidal cell layers of the hippocampus. Localisation of Fe to this cell layer is not reproducibly achieved with classical Perls histochemical Fe stains. The ability of XFI to directly quantify neuronal elemental (P, S, Cl, K, Ca, Fe, Cu, Zn) distributions, revealed unique profiles of Fe and Zn within anatomical sub-regions of the hippocampus i.e., cornu ammonis 1, 2 or 3 (CA1, CA2 or CA3) sub-regions. Interestingly, our study reveals a unique Fe gradient across neuron populations within the non-degenerating and pathology free rat hippocampus, which curiously mirrors the pattern of region-specific vulnerability of the hippocampus that has previously been established to occur in various neurodegenerative diseases.

Graphical abstract: Elemental characterisation of the pyramidal neuron layer within the rat and mouse hippocampus

Supplementary files

Article information

Article type
07 Aug 2018
23 Oct 2018
First published
29 Oct 2018
This article is Open Access
Creative Commons BY license

Metallomics, 2019,11, 151-165