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Chemical reactions in the kidney

Jefferson R Brown, Robert E Marc, Bryan W Jones, Glen Prusky and Nazia Alam

Download this image from Wellcome Collection.

Colour-coded map of part of a mouse kidney as it breaks down food to make energy. This is done through a large set of chemical reactions (collectively referred to as ‘metabolism’) and is required for cells to survive. Here, three small molecules – the amino acids aspartate and glutamine and the antioxidant glutathione – produced by some of these reactions are visible (coloured red, blue and green, respectively). The brighter the colour, the more of that molecule there is in the cell. This image was created using a technique called computational molecular phenotyping and shows how metabolism can vary between cells in the same organ at a given point in time. The width of the image is 2.9 mm.

What is computational molecular phenotyping?

This image was created using a technique called computational molecular phenotyping (CMP), which was originally developed in the laboratory of one of the creators of the image, Robert Marc. CMP essentially gives each cell a unique colour profile or signature based on the metabolic needs of the cell at that point in time. To produce this image, mouse kidney tissue was stained with silver-labelled antibodies to detect the three small molecules or metabolites of interest (aspartate, glutamine and glutathione). The signals from the antibodies were first captured as greyscale images using light microscopy and then digitally converted into red, blue and green, respectively. The three separate colour images were then overlaid to produce the final composite image you see here. Visible blocks of colour in the image may represent a single cell or a group of neighbouring cells with a similar metabolic state.