Fluorescence Photobleaching as an Intrinsic Tool to Quantify the 3D Expansion Factor of Biological Samples in Expansion Microscopy

Marisa Vanheusden, Raffaele Vitale, Rafael Camacho, Kris P. F. Janssen, Aline Acke, Susana Rocha, Johan Hofkens (see publication in Journal or in Research Gate )


Four years after its first report, expansion microscopy (ExM) is now being routinely applied in laboratories worldwide to achieve super-resolution imaging on conventional fluorescence microscopes. By chemically anchoring all molecules of interest to the polymer meshwork of an expandable hydrogel, their physical distance is increased by a factor of ∼4–5× upon dialysis in water, resulting in an imprint of the original sample with a lateral resolution up to 50–70 nm. To ensure a correct representation of the original spatial distribution of the molecules, it is crucial to confirm that the expansion is isotropic, preferentially in all three dimensions. To address this, we present an approach to evaluate the local expansion factor within a biological sample and in all three dimensions. We use photobleaching to introduce well-defined three-dimensional (3D) features in the cell and, by comparing the size and shape pre- and postexpansion, these features can be used as an intrinsic ruler. In addition, our method is capable of pointing out sample distortions and can be used as a quality control tool for expansion microscopy experiments in biological samples.