Ion-abrasion scanning electron microscopy reveals distorted liver mitochondrial morphology in murine methylmalonic acidemia

Gavin E. Murphy, Bradley C. Lowekamp, Patricia M. Zerfas, Randy J. Chandler, Rajesh Narasimha, Charles P. Venditti, Sriram Subramaniam

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Methylmalonic acidemia is a lethal inborn error of metabolism that causes mitochondrial impairment, multi-organ dysfunction and a shortened lifespan. Previous transmission electron microscope studies of thin sections from normal (Mut+/+) and diseased (Mut-/-) tissue found that the mitochondria appear to occupy a progressively larger volume of mutant cells with age, becoming megamitochondria. To assess changes in shape and volume of mitochondria resulting from the mutation, we carried out ion-abrasion scanning electron microscopy (IA-SEM), a method for 3D imaging that involves the iterative use of a focused gallium ion beam to abrade the surface of the specimen, and a scanning electron beam to image the newly exposed surface. Using IA-SEM, we show that mitochondria are more convoluted and have a broader distribution of sizes in the mutant tissue. Compared to normal cells, mitochondria from mutant cells have a larger surface-area-to-volume ratio, which can be attributed to their convoluted shape and not to their elongation or reduced volume. The 3D imaging approach and image analysis described here could therefore be useful as a diagnostic tool for the evaluation of disease progression in aberrant cells at resolutions higher than that currently achieved using confocal light microscopy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)125-132
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Structural Biology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Diagnostic imaging
  • Focused ion beam
  • Ion-abrasion
  • Methylmalonic acidemia
  • Mitochondria
  • Scanning electron microscopy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Structural Biology


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