Dried, fixed uncoated neuron granule cells and their neurites have been imaged in air by an atomic force microscope (AFM) in the repulsive regime of contact mode. Neurons have also been observed after swelling with glutamate or decapping. Modifications induced by glutamate resulted in a drastic reduction in the cell body height (from 1.5 to 2.0 mu m for the untreated ones down to 0.7-1.0 mu m) and in an increased corrugation of the granule cell membrane. In the decapped neurons AFM revealed decreasing cell body height for an increasing amount of removed material during the decapping procedure. These results demonstrate that AFM is the ideal technique to observe cell corrugation and height modifications during cell treatments of neurobiological interest. (C) 1996 American Vacuum Society.