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EMCCD camera redraws the boundaries of superresolution 3-D imaging

EuroPhotonics
Aug 2010
Charles T. Troy, charlie.troy@photonics.com

BELFAST, UK – Researchers in the US have developed a superresolution 3-D imaging technique that resolves single fluorescent molecules with >10 times the precision of conventional optical microscopy. Using an iXon+ electron multiplying CCD (EMCCD) camera from Andor Technology plc, they can locate molecules to within 12 to 20 nm in all three axes and hope to be able to observe interactions between nanometer-scale intracellular structures previously too small to see.

Combining the concepts of superresolution imaging by sparse photoactivation of single-molecule labels, three-dimensional stochastic optical reconstruction microscopy (STORM) and fluorescence photo-activation localization microscopy (F-PALM) together with a double-helix point spread function (DH-PSF) to provide accurate Z-position information resulted in the 3-D superresolution imaging.

Associate Professor Rafael Piestun of the University of Colorado at Boulder and his students developed a point spread function with two rotating lobes, where the angle of rotation depends on the axial position of the emitting molecule. This means that the PSF appears as a double helix along the Z-axis of the microscope, lending it the distinctive name of “Double Helix PSF.”

Gaining dimension

Professor William E. Moerner at Stanford University in California and his team realized that the DH-PSF could be used for superresolution imaging with single molecules. With the DH-PSF, a single-emitting fluorescent molecule emits a pattern corresponding to a standard PSF, but the image this creates is convolved with the DH-PSF using Fourier optics and a reflective mask outside the microscope. At the detector, the image from a single molecule appears as two spots, rather than one. The orientation of the pair can be used to decode the Z-location of a molecule, which, combined with the 2-D localization data, enables the 3-D position to be accurately defined.

Furthermore, the DH-PSF approach has been shown to extend the depth of field to ~2 μm in the specimen, approximately twice that achieved with other 3-D superresolution techniques.

Commenting on the role played by the iXon+ camera in this breakthrough, Moerner said, “As the localization precision of our superresolution technique improves at a rate of one over the square root of the number of photons detected, it was essential to use a camera that allowed us to detect every possible photon from each single molecule. Put simply, the more photons we detected, the greater the X, Y and Z precision. However, the speed of imaging is also important. Since we need to acquire multiple images for each reconstruction, it is always best to record the images as fast as possible.”

Validation


The DH-PSF’s usefulness was validated recently in a 3-D localization experiment involving imaging of a single molecule of the new fluorogen, DCDHF-V-PF4 azide. This photoactivatable molecule was chosen because it is easily excited and emits a large number of photons before photobleaching takes effect. By operating the EMCCD camera at a constant electron multiplying gain setting of x250 to eliminate the read noise detection limit, it was possible to acquire many images of the single photoactivated molecule. From these images, the X-Y-Z position of the fluorophore could be determined with 12- to 20-nm precision, depending upon the dimension of interest.

Moerner and his team have called this new technique single-molecule double-helix photoactivated localization microscopy (DH-PALM) and are confident that it will provide far more useful information than is the case for other approaches to extracting 3-D positional information.

“We expect that the DH-PSF optics will become a regular attachment on advanced microscopes, either for superresolution 3-D imaging of structures or for 3-D superresolution tracking of individually labeled biomolecules in cells or other environments,” he said.


GLOSSARY
camera
A light-tight box that receives light from an object or scene and focuses it to form an image on a light-sensitive material or a detector. The camera generally contains a lens of variable aperture and a shutter of variable speed to precisely control the exposure. In an electronic imaging system, the camera does not use chemical means to store the image, but takes advantage of the sensitivity of various detectors to different bands of the electromagnetic spectrum. These sensors are transducers...
fluorophore
Material that emits fluorescence.
microscope
An instrument consisting essentially of a tube 160 mm long, with an objective lens at the distant end and an eyepiece at the near end. The objective forms a real aerial image of the object in the focal plane of the eyepiece where it is observed by the eye. The overall magnifying power is equal to the linear magnification of the objective multiplied by the magnifying power of the eyepiece. The eyepiece can be replaced by a film to photograph the primary image, or a positive or negative relay...
photon
A quantum of electromagnetic energy of a single mode; i.e., a single wavelength, direction and polarization. As a unit of energy, each photon equals hn, h being Planck's constant and n, the frequency of the propagating electromagnetic wave. The momentum of the photon in the direction of propagation is hn/c, c being the speed of light.
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