A protocol was developed to visualize and analyze the structure of membrane vesicles (MVs) from Gram-negative bacteria. It is now accepted that these micrometric spherical vesicles are commonly produced by cells from all three domains of life, so the protocol could be useful in the study of vesicles produced by eukaryotes and archaea as well as bacteria. The multiplicity of functions performed by MVs, related to cell communication, interaction with the immune system, pathogenesis, and nutrient acquisition, among others, has made MVs a hot topic of research.
Due to their small size (25-300 nm), the observation of MVs requires electron microscopy and is usually performed by transmission electron microscopy (TEM) of negatively stained MVs. Other protocols applied for their visualization include scanning electron microscopy, TEM after fixation and embedding of vesicles, or even atomic force microscopy. In some of these techniques, vesicle structure is altered by drying, while others are time-consuming and most of them can generate artifacts. Cryo-TEM after plunge freezing allows the visualization of samples embedded in a thin film of vitreous ice, which preserves their native cellular structures and provides the highest available resolution for the imaging. This is achieved by very high cooling rates that turn the intrinsic water of cells into vitreous ice, avoiding crystal formation and phase segregation between water and solutes. In addition to other types of characterization, an accurate knowledge of MV structure, which can be obtained by this protocol, is essential for MV application in different fields.
- Cryo-transmission electron microscopy
- Plunge freezing
- Membrane vesicles
- Outer-inner membrane vesicles
- Gram-negative bacteria