Phase-sensitive X-ray imaging methods can provide substantially increased contrast over conventional absorption-based imaging, and therefore new and otherwise inaccessible information. Differential phase-contrast (DPC) imaging, which uses a grating interferometer and a phase-stepping technique, has been integrated into TOMCAT, a beamline dedicated to tomographic microscopy and coherent radiology experiments at the Swiss Light Source. Developments have been made focusing on the fast acquisition and post-processing of data to enable a high-throughput of samples, with obvious advantages, also through increasing the efficiency of the detecting system, of helping to reduce radiation dose imparted to the sample. A novel aquarium design allows a vertical rotation axis below the sample with measurements performed in aqueous environment. Optimization of the data acquisition procedure enables a full phase volume (1024 X 1024 pixels X 1000 projections X 9 phase steps, i.e. 9000 projections in total) to be acquired in 20 min (with a pixel size of 7.4 mm), and the subsequent post-processing has been integrated into the beamline pipeline for sinogram generation. Local DPC tomography allows one to focus with higher magnification on a particular region of interest of a sample without the presence of local tomography reconstruction artifacts. Furthermore, 'widefield' imaging is shown for DPC scans for the first time, enabling the field of view of the imaging system to be doubled for samples that are larger than the magnification allows. A case study is illustrated focusing on the visualization of soft tissue features, and particularly the substantia nigra of a rat brain. Darkfield images, based on local X-ray scattering, can also be extracted from a grating-based DPC scan: an example of the advantages of darkfield contrast is shown and the potential of darkfield X-ray tomography is discussed. (C) 2009 International Union of Crystallography Printed in Singapore - all rights reserved