• backscattered electron imaging;
  • field emission;
  • scanning electron microscopy;
  • low voltage;
  • immunocytochemistry;
  • internal reflection microscopy;
  • cell adhesion;
  • vinculin

A new immunogold labelling method for the visualisation of vinculin, an integral protein in focal adhesions of cells, is reported. Quantification of vinculin is indicative of substrate cytocompatibility (cytocompatibility is one aspect of biocompatibility; it is the cellular response to a biomaterial). For efficient labelling, most of the cell body above the cell—substrate interface was removed with detergent. The antigen blocking procedure, size of label (5nm) and duration of silver-enhancement (6min), for visualisation of the labelled sites on the whole cell by scanning electron microscopy (SEM), were determined. Imaging living cells with interference reflection light microscopy, followed by backscattered electron (BSE) imaging of the same fixed and immunolabelled cells confirmed the results. Collecting low voltage BSE images of embedded cells after the substrate had been removed provided ‘sectional’ views through the cell. This enabled visualisation of vinculin exclusively within the cell-substrate contact zone; the focal adhesions. The method could be of general use in the imaging of protein distribution at biological tissue/substrate interfaces.