This technical note describes synchrotron x-ray fluorescence microscopy (XFM) as a method for measuring the concentrations of different elements in cross-sections of the ear at extremely high resolution. This method could be of great importance for addressing many open questions in hearing research. XFM uses synchrotron radiation to evoke emissions from many biologically relevant elements in the tissue. The intensity and wavelength of the emitted radiation provide a fingerprint of the tissue composition that can be used to measure the concentration of the elements in the sampled location. Here, we focus on energies that target biologically-relevant elements of the periodic table between magnesium and zinc. Since a highly focused x-ray beam is used, the spot size is well below 1 μm and the samples can be scanned at a nanometer lateral resolution. This study shows that measurement of the concentrations of different elements is possible in a mid-modiolar cross-section of a mouse cochlea. Images are presented that indicate potassium and chloride “hot spots” in the spiral ligament and the spiral limbus, providing experimental evidence for the potassium recycling pathway and showing the cochlear structures involved. Scans of a section obtained from the incus, one of the middle ear ossicles, in a developing mouse have shown that zinc is not uniformly distributed This supports the hypothesis that zinc plays a special role in the process of ossification. Although limited by sophisticated sample preparation and sectioning, the method provides ample exciting opportunities, to understand the role of genetics and epigenetics on hearing mechanisms in ontogeny and phylogeny.
Copyright © 2020. Published by Elsevier B.V.

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