Multimodal optical microscopy methods reveal polyp tissue morphology and structure in caribbean reef building corals

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An integrated suite of imaging techniques has been applied to determine the three-dimensional (3D) morphology and cellular structure of polyp tissues comprising the Caribbean reef building corals Montastraeaannularis and M. faveolata. These approaches include fluorescence microscopy (FM), serial block face imaging (SBFI), and two-photon confocal laser scanning microscopy (TPLSM). SBFI provides deep tissue imaging after physical sectioning; it details the tissue surface texture and 3D visualization to tissue depths of more than 2 mm. Complementary FM and TPLSM yield ultra-high resolution images of tissue cellular structure. Results have: (1) identified previously unreported lobate tissue morphologies on the outer wall of individual coral polyps and (2) created the first surface maps of the 3D distribution and tissue density of chromatophores and algae-like dinoflagellate zooxanthellae endosymbionts. Spectral absorption peaks of 500 nm and 675 nm, respectively, suggest that M. annularis and M. faveolata contain similar types of chlorophyll and chromatophores. However, M. annularis and M. faveolata exhibit significant differences in the tissue density and 3D distribution of these key cellular components. This study focusing on imaging methods indicates that SBFI is extremely useful for analysis of large mm-scale samples of decalcified coral tissues. Complimentary FM and TPLSM reveal subtle submillimeter scale changes in cellular distribution and density in nondecalcified coral tissue samples. The TPLSM technique affords: (1) minimally invasive sample preparation, (2) superior optical sectioning ability, and (3) minimal light absorption and scattering, while still permitting deep tissue imaging.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere52028
JournalJournal of Visualized Experiments
Issue number91
StatePublished - Sep 5 2014


  • 3D coral tissue morphology and structure
  • Autofluorescence
  • Chromatophore
  • Environmental Sciences
  • Issue 91
  • Light harvesting optimization
  • Montastraea annularis
  • Montastraea faveolata
  • Serial block face imaging
  • Two-photon fluorescence microscopy
  • Zooxanthellae
  • environmental change

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • General Chemical Engineering
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Immunology and Microbiology


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