Laser-induced damage is studied in the rat corneal epithelium and stroma using a combination of time-resolved imaging and biological assays. Cavitation bubble interactions with cells are visualized at a higher spatial resolution than previously reported. The shock wave is observed to propagate through the epithelium without cell displacement or deformation. Cavitation bubble expansion is damped in tissue with a reduction in maximum size in the range of 54 to 59%, as compared to 2-D and 3-D cultures. Bubble expansion on nanosecond timescales results in rupture of the epithelial sheet and severe compression of cell layers beyond the bubble rim. In the stroma, the dense collagen lamellae strongly damped bubble expansion, thus resulting in reduced damage. The acute biological response of this tissue to laser pulses is characterized by confocal fluorescence microscopy. A viability assay of the epithelium reveals that only cells around the immediate site of laser focus are killed, while cells seen to undergo large deformations remain alive. Actin morphology in cells facing this mechanical stress is unchanged. Collagen microstructure in the stroma as revealed by second-harmonic imaging around the ablation site shows minimal disruption. These cellular responses are also compared to in vitro 2-D and 3-D cell cultures.
Highly focused laser microbeams are being used with increasing regularity for targeted cell lysis, cellular microsurgery and molecular delivery via transient cell membrane permeabilization. To examine the mechanisms of laser induced cell lysis, we performed time-resolved imaging of confluent PtK2 cell cultures following the delivery of a single 6 ns, 532 nm Nd:YAG laser pulse. The laser pulse energies employed correspond to 1x and 3x threshold for plasma formation. The resulting plasma formation, pressure wave propagation and cavitation bubble dynamics were imaged over a temporal range spanning 5 orders of magnitude (0.5 ns - 50 µs). Time-resolved imaging enabled determination of process characteristics including pressure wave speed and amplitude and cavitation bubble energies. The time-resolved images also revealed the onset of cellular damage to occur on nano-second time scales and complete within 1 µs. Moreover, the size of the damage zone was larger than the plasma but smaller than the maximum cavitation bubble size. This indicated that mechanisms apart from plasma vaporization namely pressure wave propagation and cavitation bubble expansion are contributors to cellular damage. Dye exclusion assays showed that the majority of cells experiencing considerable deformation due to fluid flow generated by the cavitation bubble expansion remain viable over 24 hours.