Ultrastructural characterisation is important for understanding carbon nanotube (CNT) toxicity and how the CNTs interact with cells and tissues. The standard method for this involves using transmission electron microscopy (TEM). However, in particular, the sample preparation, using a microtome to cut thin sample sections for TEM, can be challenging for investigation of regions with agglomerations of large and stiff CNTs because the CNTs cut with difficulty. As a consequence, the sectioning diamond knife may be damaged and the uncut CNTs are left protruding from the embedded block surface excluding them from TEM analysis. To provide an alternative to ultramicrotomy and subsequent TEMimaging, we studied focused ion beam scanning electron microscopy (FIB-SEM) of CNTs in the lungs of mice, and we evaluated the applicability of the method compared to TEM. FIB-SEM can provide serial section volume imaging not easily obtained with TEM, but it is time-consuming to locate CNTs in the tissue. We demonstrate that protruding CNTs after ultramicrotomy can be used to locate the region of interest, and we present FIB-SEM images of CNTs in lung tissue. FIB-SEM imaging was applied to lung tissue from mice which had been intratracheally instilled with two different multiwalled CNTs; one being short and thin, and the other longer and thicker. FIB-SEM was found to be most suitable for detection of the large CNTs (Ø ca. 70 nm), and to be well suited for studying CNT agglomerates in biological samples which is challenging using standard TEM techniques.
Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry, 2014, Vol 406, Issue 16, p. 3863-3873