Freezing Tissues for Cryosectioning

Histopathology Tissue Submission Freezing Tissues for Cryosectioning

Freezing Tissues for Cryosectioning

If you're not familiar with preparing tissues for cryosectioning or working with frozen sections, you should read
Cryotechniques for Light Microscopy © Woods and Ellis 2000.

There are many variables affecting the quality of frozen sections. You may have to experiment with different methods. Be advised that it can be difficult to get acceptable sections from some tissues. Fatty tissues are a notable example.

Also be advised that although we routinely use Plus (charged) slides to aid adherence of the section to the slide, one still must take care not to dislodge the sections during staining. Other means of increasing adhesion are available.

Embedding medium and molds
Most frozen tissues we receive are embedded in OCT in cryomolds. [Supplies page] Embedding medium helps conduct heat away from the specimen during freezing, helps protect the tissue from drying during storage, and supports the tissue during sectioning. We suggest placing a drop of OCT in the bottom of the mold and placing the tissue in the OCT. This will hold the tissue in place while you fill the mold with OCT. Just be careful to exclude large bubbles, fill the mold level full, and freeze by one of the methods below.

Label the mold with a lab marker before freezing.

If you want the tissue in a particular orientation, such as a piece of skin or hollow organ on edge, you can chill the filled mold, which will make the OCT thicken and help hold the tissue in place, but try to freeze the tissue as rapidly as possible to minimize freezing artifacts.

We also recommend not trying to embed large pieces of tissue, not more than about 1 cm x 1 cm x 4 mm. Don't crowd the mold with too many pieces of tissue.

Freezing methods
One simple method is to use dry ice (-70C) in block form placed in a styrofoam container. Place the filled cryomold on the block to freeze it. This method has the advantages of simplicity and safety, but does not freeze the tissue as rapidly as immersion in a freezing medium.

The method we prefer uses dry ice in pellet form. Place a small stainless steel bowl (or Pyrex or polypropylene beaker) in the bottom of a styrofoam container and fill the space around the bowl with dry ice pellets. Place some pellets in the bowl and slowly add isopentane (2-methyl butane) or acetone. Work in a fume hood, of course, as these are flammable. When the pellets stop bubbling vigorously, the "slurry" is ready. Once you've filled the mold and oriented the tissue, immerse it in the liquid to freeze it.

Isopentane also can be chilled in liquid nitrogen (-176C). With the liquid nitrogen in a styrofoam container or Dewar flask, use a tongs to lower a stainless steel, Pyrex, or polypropylene container of isopentane into the liquid nitrogen. The isopentane will start to become opaque as it nears freezing. Take the isopentane out of the liquid nitrogen and freeze the specimen as described above. Chill the isopentane again as necessary for subsequent tissues. This method has the advantage of very rapid freezing.

Frozen tissues can be stored in a -80 freezer. If the tissues were frozen in a flammable freezing medium, take care to allow it to evaporate before placing the blocks in the freezer.

Even if frozen in embedding medium, tissues must be protected from drying, which can ruin them. Tightly wrapped foil envelopes and screw-top plastic centrifuge tubes are commonly used, and it's a good idea to double wrap the specimens or place them in a container within a second container. Best, however, is to section and stain them as soon as possible.

See Cryotechniques for Light Microscopy © Woods and Ellis 2000 for more information.

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