Environmental-scanning electron microscopy (ESEM) is routinely applied to various biological samples due to its ability to maintain a wet environment while imaging; moreover, the technique obviates the need for sample coating. However, there is limited research carried out on electron-beam (e-beam) induced tissue damage resulting from using the ESEM. In this paper, we use quantitative second-harmonic generation (SHG) microscopy to examine the effects of e-beam exposure from the ESEM on collagenous tissue samples prepared as either fixed, frozen, wet or dehydrated. Quantitative SHG analysis of tissues, before and after ESEM e-beam exposure in low-vacuum mode, reveals evidence of cross-linking of collagen fibers, however there are no structural differences observed in fixed tissue. Meanwhile wet-mode ESEM appears to radically alter the structure from a regular fibrous arrangement to a more random fiber orientation. We also confirm that ESEM images of collagenous tissues show higher spatial resolution compared to SHG microscopy, but the relative tradeoff with collagen specificity reduces its effectiveness in quantifying collagen fiber organization. Our work provides insight on both the limitations of the ESEM for tissue imaging, and the potential opportunity to use as a complementary technique when imaging fine features in the non-collagenous regions of tissue samples.
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