The use of scanning ion conductance microscopy to image A6 cells

Julia Gorelik, Yanjun Zhang, Andrew I. Shevchuk, Gregory I. Frolenkov, Daniel Sánchez, Max J. Lab, Igor Vodyanoy, Christopher R.W. Edwards, David Klenerman, Yuri E. Korchev

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

67 Scopus citations


Background: Continuous high spatial resolution observations of living A6 cells would greatly aid the elucidation of the relationship between structure and function and facilitate the study of major physiological processes such as the mechanism of action of aldosterone. Unfortunately, observing the micro-structural and functional changes in the membrane of living cells is still a formidable challenge for a microscopist. Method: Scanning ion conductance microscopy (SICM), which uses a glass nanopipette as a sensitive probe, has been shown to be suitable for imaging non-conducting surfaces bathed in electrolytes. A specialized version of this microscopy has been developed by our group and has been applied to image live cells at high-resolution for the first time. This method can also be used in conjunction with patch clamping to study both anatomy and function and identify ion channels in single cells. Results: This new microscopy provides high-resolution images of living renal cells which are comparable with those obtained by scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and atomic force microscopy (AFM). Continuous 24 h observations under normal physiological conditions showed how A6 kidney epithelial cells changed their height, volume, and reshaped their borders. The changes in cell area correlated with the density of microvilli on the surface. Surface microvilli density ranged from 0.5 μm-2 for extended cells to 2.5 μm2 for shrunk cells. Patch clamping of individual cells enabled anatomy and function to be correlated. Conclusions: Scanning ion conductance microscopy provides unique information about living cells that helps to understand cellular function. It has the potential to become a powerful tool for research on living renal cells.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)101-108
Number of pages8
JournalMolecular and Cellular Endocrinology
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Mar 31 2004

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the Biotechnology and Biological Science Research Council, the Office of Naval Research and the Wellcome Trust.

Copyright 2008 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • A6 cells
  • Aldosterone
  • Scanning microscopy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Endocrinology


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