Clearing pigmented insect cuticle to investigate small insects' organs in situ using confocal laser-scanning microscopy (CLSM)


Various microscopic techniques allow investigating structures from submicron to millimeter range, however, this is only possible if the structures of interest are not covered by pigmented cuticle. Here, we present a protocol that combines clearing of pigmented cuticle while preserving both, hard and soft tissues. The resulting transparent cuticle allows confocal laser-scanning microscopy (CLSM), which yields high-resolution images of e.g. the brain, glands, muscles and fine cuticular structures. Using a fluorescent dye, even single labeled neurons can be visualized and resolved up to an imaging depth of 150??m through the cleared cuticle. Hydrogen-peroxide, which was used to clear the cuticle, does not preclude immunocytochemical techniques, shown by successful labeling of serotonin-immunoreactive neurons (5HT-ir) in the ants’ brain. The ‘transparent insect protocol’ presented here is especially suited for small arthropods where dissection of organs is very demanding and difficult to achieve. Furthermore, the insect organs are preserved in situ thus allowing a more precise three-dimensional reconstruction of the structures of interest compared to, e.g., dissected or sectioned tissue. ?? 2014 Elsevier Ltd.

Arthropod Structure and Development