Fluorescence hybridization (FISH) was performed on sections of plastic-embedded tissue using 16S rRNA-directed oligonucleotide probes to visualize uncultured treponemes in skin biopsies of cows with digital dermatitis. Plastic as embedding material allowed sectioning of hard and soft tissue with a defined thickness, avoiding the risk of dragging bacteria into the tissue while sectioning. Furthermore, it provided a good signal-to-noise ratio. Using this method the spatial distribution of three different bacterial phylotypes was visualized simultaneously within the tissue. Whereas debris covering the ulcers contained a mixture of different micro-organisms, a layering of certain treponemal phylotypes was observed deeper in the epidermis. Confocal laser scanning microscopy and subsequent three-dimensional reconstruction of series of optical sections confirmed that the treponemes migrated intercellularly around the cells, most of them directed towards the dermis. hybridization on tissue embedded in plastic proved to be a useful method to study mixed bacterial infections since it combines excellent histological conservation of tissue with identification of bacterial species by simultaneous use of probes labelled with different fluorescent dyes. This technique may have implications for detection, identification and localization of microorganisms in veterinary as well as in human medicine.


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