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Tillberg Lab / Publications
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9 Publications

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    05/28/21 | Protein-Retention Expansion Microscopy (ExM): Scalable and Convenient Super-Resolution Microscopy.
    Tillberg P
    Methods in Molecular Biology. 2021 May 28;2304:147-156. doi: 10.1007/978-1-0716-1402-0_7

    Expansion microscopy (ExM) is a method to expand biological specimens ~fourfold in each dimension by embedding in a hyper-swellable gel material. The expansion is uniform across observable length scales, enabling imaging of structures previously too small to resolve. ExM is compatible with any microscope and does not require expensive materials or specialized software, offering effectively sub-diffraction-limited imaging capabilities to labs that are not equipped to use traditional super-resolution imaging methods. Expanded specimens are ~99% water, resulting in strongly reduced optical scattering and enabling imaging of sub-diffraction-limited structures throughout specimens up to several hundred microns in (pre-expansion) thickness.

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    03/08/21 | Expansion-Assisted Iterative-FISH defines lateral hypothalamus spatio-molecular organization
    Yuhan Wang , Mark Eddison , Greg Fleishman , Martin Weigert , Shengjin Xu , Frederick E. Henry , Tim Wang , Andrew L. Lemire , Uwe Schmidt , Hui Yang , Konrad Rokicki , Cristian Goina , Karel Svoboda , Eugene W. Myers , Stephan Saalfeld , Wyatt Korff , Scott M. Sternson , Paul W. Tillberg
    bioRxiv. 2021 Mar 8:. doi: 10.1101/2021.03.08.434304

    Determining the spatial organization and morphological characteristics of molecularly defined cell types is a major bottleneck for characterizing the architecture underpinning brain function. We developed Expansion-Assisted Iterative Fluorescence In Situ Hybridization (EASI-FISH) to survey gene expression in brain tissue, as well as a turnkey computational pipeline to rapidly process large EASI-FISH image datasets. EASI-FISH was optimized for thick brain sections (300 µm) to facilitate reconstruction of spatio-molecular domains that generalize across brains. Using the EASI-FISH pipeline, we investigated the spatial distribution of dozens of molecularly defined cell types in the lateral hypothalamic area (LHA), a brain region with poorly defined anatomical organization. Mapping cell types in the LHA revealed nine novel spatially and molecularly defined subregions. EASI-FISH also facilitates iterative re-analysis of scRNA-Seq datasets to determine marker-genes that further dissociated spatial and morphological heterogeneity. The EASI-FISH pipeline democratizes mapping molecularly defined cell types, enabling discoveries about brain organization.

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    02/03/21 | Visualizing cellular and tissue ultrastructure using Ten-fold Robust Expansion Microscopy (TREx)
    Hugo G.J. Damstra , Boaz Mohar , Mark Eddison , Anna Akhmanova , Lukas C. Kapitein , Paul W. Tillberg
    bioRxiv. 2021 Feb 03:. doi:

    Expansion microscopy (ExM) is a powerful technique to overcome the diffraction limit of light microscopy that can be applied in both tissues and cells. In ExM, samples are embedded in a swellable polymer gel to physically expand the sample and isotropically increase resolution in x, y and z. The maximum resolution increase is limited by the expansion factor of the polymer gel, which is four-fold for the original ExM protocol. Variations on the original ExM method have been reported that allow for greater expansion factors, for example using iterative expansion, but at the cost of ease of adoption or versatility. Here, we systematically explore the ExM recipe space and present a novel method termed Ten-fold Robust Expansion Microscopy (TREx) that, like the original ExM method, requires no specialized equipment or procedures to carry out. We demonstrate that TREx gels expand ten-fold, can be handled easily, and can be applied to both thick tissue sections and cells enabling high-resolution subcellular imaging in a single expansion step. We show that applying TREx on antibody-stained samples can be combined with off-the-shelf small molecule stains for both total protein and membranes to provide ultrastructural context to subcellular protein localization.

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    10/06/19 | Expansion microscopy: scalable and convenient super-resolution microscopy.
    Tillberg PW, Chen F
    Annual Review of Cell and Developmental Biology. 2019 Oct 6;35:683-701. doi: 10.1146/annurev-cellbio-100818-125320

    Expansion microscopy (ExM) is a physical form of magnification that increases the effective resolving power of any microscope. Here, we describe the fundamental principles of ExM, as well as how recently developed ExM variants build upon and apply those principles. We examine applications of ExM in cell and developmental biology for the study of nanoscale structures as well as ExM's potential for scalable mapping of nanoscale structures across large sample volumes. Finally, we explore how the unique anchoring and hydrogel embedding properties enable postexpansion molecular interrogation in a purified chemical environment. ExM promises to play an important role complementary to emerging live-cell imaging techniques, because of its relative ease of adoption and modification and its compatibility with tissue specimens up to at least 200 μm thick. Expected final online publication date for the , Volume 35 is October 7, 2019. Please see for revised estimates.

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    09/01/19 | BigStitcher: reconstructing high-resolution image datasets of cleared and expanded samples.
    Hörl D, Rojas Rusak F, Preusser F, Tillberg P, Randel N, Chhetri RK, Cardona A, Keller PJ, Harz H, Leonhardt H, Treier M, Preibisch S
    Nature Methods. 2019 Sep;16(9):870-74. doi: 10.1038/s41592-019-0501-0

    Light-sheet imaging of cleared and expanded samples creates terabyte-sized datasets that consist of many unaligned three-dimensional image tiles, which must be reconstructed before analysis. We developed the BigStitcher software to address this challenge. BigStitcher enables interactive visualization, fast and precise alignment, spatially resolved quality estimation, real-time fusion and deconvolution of dual-illumination, multitile, multiview datasets. The software also compensates for optical effects, thereby improving accuracy and enabling subsequent biological analysis.

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    08/02/18 | Expansion microscopy: protocols for imaging proteins and RNA in cells and tissues.
    Asano SM, Gao R, Wassie AT, Tillberg PW, Chen F, Boyden ES
    Current Protocols in Cell Biology. 2018 Aug 02;80(1):e56. doi: 10.1002/cpcb.56

    Expansion microscopy (ExM) is a recently developed technique that enables nanoscale-resolution imaging of preserved cells and tissues on conventional diffraction-limited microscopes via isotropic physical expansion of the specimens before imaging. In ExM, biomolecules and/or fluorescent labels in the specimen are linked to a dense, expandable polymer matrix synthesized evenly throughout the specimen, which undergoes 3-dimensional expansion by ∼4.5 fold linearly when immersed in water. Since our first report, versions of ExM optimized for visualization of proteins, RNA, and other biomolecules have emerged. Here we describe best-practice, step-by-step ExM protocols for performing analysis of proteins (protein retention ExM, or proExM) as well as RNAs (expansion fluorescence in situ hybridization, or ExFISH), using chemicals and hardware found in a typical biology lab. Furthermore, a detailed protocol for handling and mounting expanded samples and for imaging them with confocal and light-sheet microscopes is provided. © 2018 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

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    07/04/16 | Protein-retention expansion microscopy of cells and tissues labeled using standard fluorescent proteins and antibodies.
    Tillberg P, Chen F, Piatkevich KD, Zhao Y, Yu CJ, English BP, Gao L, Martorell A, Suk H, Yoshida F, DeGennaro EM, Roossien DH, Gong G, Seneviratne U, Tannenbaum SR, Desimone R, Cai D, Boyden ES
    Nature Biotechnology. 2016 Jul 4;34(9):987-92. doi: 10.1038/nbt.3625

    Expansion microscopy (ExM) enables imaging of preserved specimens with nanoscale precision on diffraction-limited instead of specialized super-resolution microscopes. ExM works by physically separating fluorescent probes after anchoring them to a swellable gel. The first ExM method did not result in the retention of native proteins in the gel and relied on custom-made reagents that are not widely available. Here we describe protein retention ExM (proExM), a variant of ExM in which proteins are anchored to the swellable gel, allowing the use of conventional fluorescently labeled antibodies and streptavidin, and fluorescent proteins. We validated and demonstrated the utility of proExM for multicolor super-resolution (∼70 nm) imaging of cells and mammalian tissues on conventional microscopes.

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    01/30/15 | Expansion microscopy.
    Fei Chen , Paul Tillberg , Edward Boyden

    In optical microscopy, fine structural details are resolved by using refraction to magnify images of a specimen. We discovered that by synthesizing a swellable polymer network within a specimen, it can be physically expanded, resulting in physical magnification. By covalently anchoring specific labels located within the specimen directly to the polymer network, labels spaced closer than the optical diffraction limit can be isotropically separated and optically resolved, a process we call expansion microscopy (ExM). Thus, this process can be used to perform scalable superresolution microscopy with diffraction-limited microscopes. We demonstrate ExM with apparent ~70-nanometer lateral resolution in both cultured cells and brain tissue, performing three-color superresolution imaging of ~107 cubic micrometers of the mouse hippocampus with a conventional confocal microscope.

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    01/10/14 | A fully genetically encoded protein architecture for optical control of peptide ligand concentration.
    Daniel Schmidt , Paul Tillberg , Fei Chen , Edward Boyden

    Ion channels are among the most important proteins in biology, regulating the activity of excitable cells and changing in diseases. Ideally it would be possible to actuate endogenous ion channels, in a temporally precise and reversible manner, and without requiring chemical cofactors. Here we present a modular protein architecture for fully genetically encoded, light-modulated control of ligands that modulate ion channels of a targeted cell. Our reagent, which we call a lumitoxin, combines a photoswitch and an ion channel-blocking peptide toxin. Illumination causes the photoswitch to unfold, lowering the toxin’s local concentration near the cell surface, and enabling the ion channel to function. We explore lumitoxin modularity by showing operation with peptide toxins that target different voltage-dependent K+ channels. The lumitoxin architecture may represent a new kind of modular protein-engineering strategy for designing light-activated proteins, and thus may enable development of novel tools for modulating cellular physiology.

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