Recent studies showed that the excitation spectral window lying between 1.6 and 1.8 μm is optimal for in-depth three-photon microscopy of intact tissues due to the reduced scattering and absorption in this wavelength range. Hence, millimeter penetration depth imaging in a living mouse brain has been demonstrated, demonstrating a major potential for neurosciences.
Further improvements of this approach, towards much higher imaging frame rates (up to 15-20 s/frame in previous achievements) requires the development of advanced molecular optical probes specifically designed for three-photon excited fluorescence in the 1.6 -1.8 μm spectral range.
In order to achieve large three-photon brightness at 1700 nm, novel molecular-based fluorescent nanoparticles which combine strong absorption in the green-yellow region, remarkable stability and photostability in aqueous and biological conditions have been designed using a bottom-up route. Due to the multipolar nature of the dedicated dyes subunits, these nanoparticles show large nonlinear absorption in the NIR region.
These new dyes have been experimentally characterized through the measurement of their three-photon action cross-section, fluorescence spectra and lifetimes using a monolithically integrated high repetition rate all-fiber femtosecond laser based on soliton self-frequency shift providing 9 nJ, 75 fs pulses at 1700 nm. The main result is that their brightness could be several orders of magnitude larger than the one of Texas Red in the 1700 nm excitation window.
Ongoing experiments involving the use of these new dyes for in vivo cerebral angiography on a mouse model will be presented and the route towards three-photon endomicroscopy will be discussed.
In order to provide a green alternative to QDs for bioimaging purposes and aiming at designing bright nanoparticles combining both large one- and two-photon brightness, a bottom-up route based on the molecular engineering of dedicated red to NIR emitting dyes that spontaneously form fluorescent organic nanoparticles (FONs) has been implemented. These fully organic nanoparticles built from original quadrupolar dyes are prepared using a simple, expeditious and green protocol that yield very small molecular-based nanoparticles (radius ~ 7 nm) suspension in water showing a nice NIR emission (λ<sub>em</sub>=710 nm). These FONs typically have absorption coefficient more than two orders larger than popular NIR-emitting dyes (such as Alexa Fluor 700, Cy5.5 ….) and much larger Stokes shift values (i.e. up to over 5500 cm<sup>-1</sup>). They also show very large two-photon absorption response in the 800-1050 nm region (up to about 10<sup>6</sup> GM) of major promise for two-photon excited fluorescence microscopy. Thanks to their brightness and enhanced photostability, these FONs could be imaged as isolated nanoparticles and tracked using wide-field imaging. As such, thanks to their size and composition (absence of heavy metals), they represent highly promising alternatives to NIR-emitting QDs for use in bioimaging and single particle tracking applications. Moreover, efficient FONs coating was achieved by using a polymeric additive built from a long hydrophobic (PPO) and a short hydrophilic (PEO) segment and having a cationic head group able to interact with the highly negative surface of FONs. This electrostatically-driven interaction promotes both photoluminescence and two-photon absorption enhancement leading to an increase of two-photon brightness of about one order of magnitude. This opens the way to wide-field single particle tracking under two-photon excitation