The accessibility of new wide-scale multimodal imaging techniques led to numerous clearing techniques emerging over the last decade. However, clearing mesoscopic-sized blocks of aged human brain tissue remains an extremely challenging task. Homogenizing refractive indices and reducing light absorption and scattering are the foundation of tissue clearing. Due to its dense and highly myelinated nature, especially in white matter, the human brain poses particular challenges to clearing techniques.
Here, we present a comparative study of seven tissue clearing approaches and their impact on aged human brain tissue blocks (> 5 mm). The goal was to identify the most practical and efficient method in regards to macroscopic transparency, brief clearing time, compatibility with immunohistochemical processing and wide-scale multimodal microscopic imaging. We successfully cleared 26 × 26 × 5 mm3-sized human brain samples with two hydrophilic and two hydrophobic clearing techniques. Optical properties as well as light and antibody penetration depths highly vary between these methods. In addition to finding the best clearing approach, we compared three microscopic imaging setups (the Zeiss Laser Scanning Microscope (LSM) 880 , the Miltenyi Biotec Ultramicroscope ll (UM ll) and the 3i Marianas LightSheet microscope) regarding optimal imaging of large-scale tissue samples.
We demonstrate that combining the CLARITY technique (Clear Lipid-exchanged Acrylamide-hybridized Rigid Imaging compatible Tissue hYdrogel) with the Zeiss LSM 880 and combining the iDISCO technique (immunolabeling-enabled three-dimensional imaging of solvent-cleared organs) with the Miltenyi Biotec UM ll are the most practical and efficient approaches to sufficiently clear aged human brain tissue and generate 3D microscopic images. Our results point out challenges that arise from seven clearing and three imaging techniques applied to non-standardized tissue samples such as aged human brain tissue.