Introduction of a high-resolution cytochemical method for studying the distribution of phospholipids in biological tissues.

P. A. Coulombe, F. W. Kan, M. Bendayan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


A novel cytochemical method for the in situ, ultrastructural localization of phospholipids in biological tissues is reported. The method is based on the enzyme-gold approach (M. Bendayan: J. Histochem. Cytochem. 29, 531, 1981). Phospholipase A2 from bee venom was adsorbed on colloidal gold particles (PLA2-gold) and applied for the specific labeling of its substrate, sn3-glycerophospholipids. The binding and enzymic competence of the PLA2-gold complex were confirmed by in vitro, preembedding experiments with erythrocytes and a crude lung surfactant preparation. The substrate specificity of the probe was assessed by labeling Epon thin sections of pure phospholipids. To test the potential applications of the PLA2-gold complex, lung and pancreatic tissues were fixed with glutaraldehyde-osmium and embedded in Epon for transmission electron microscopy (TEM). They were also prepared for critical-point-drying fracture-label (CPD-FL) replicas and thin-section fracture-label (TS-FL) specimens. On TEM thin sections incubated with PLA2-gold, all cellular membranes were labeled. The labeling density over each membrane compartment, as quantitated in lung type II pneumocytes, was classified in order of magnitude as follows: a) nuclear membranes; b) outer mitochondrial membrane and rough endoplasmic reticulm (RER); and c) Golgi complex, mitochondrial cristae and plasma membranes. In lung alveoli, the phospholipid-rich surfactant material was intensely labeled. Labeling of lung thin sections from chlorphentermine-treated rats (phospholipidosis-inducing drug) further demonstrates the reliability of PLA2-gold to label phospholipids. CPD-FL replicas and TS-FL specimens further extended the TEM observations: nuclear membranes and RER were more intensely labeled than plasma membranes. In exocrine pancreatic cells, two distinct labeling patterns were found for secretory granule membranes: sparse and dense. The specificity and reliability of the labeling were confirmed through several control experiments. The studies performed thus demonstrate the great potential of the PLA2-gold technique as a new approach to the high-resolution study of phospholipid distribution and density among biological structures.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)564-576
Number of pages13
JournalEuropean journal of cell biology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 1988

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Histology
  • Cell Biology


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