Detecting corneal cells metabolic alterations may prove a valuable tool in the early diagnosis of corneal diseases. Nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NADH) and flavin adenine dinucleotide (FAD) are autofluorescent metabolic co-factors that allow the assessment of metabolic changes through non-invasive optical methods. These co-factors exhibit double-exponential fluorescence decays, with well-separated short and lifetime components, which are related to their protein-bound and free-states. Corneal metabolism can be assessed by measuring the relative contributions of these two components. <p> </p>For that purpose, we have developed a wide-field time-gated fluorescence lifetime microscope based on structured illumination and one-photon excitation to record FAD lifetime images from corneas. NADH imaging was not considered as its UV excitation peak is regarded as not safe for in vivo measurements. The microscope relies on a pulsed blue diode laser (λ=443 nm) as excitation source, an ultra-high speed gated image intensifier coupled to a CCD camera to acquire fluorescence signals and a Digital Micromirror Device (DMD) to implement the Structured Illumination technique. The system has a lateral resolution better than 2.4 μm, a field of view of 160 per 120 μm and an optical sectioning of 6.91 +/- 0.45 μm when used with a 40x, 0.75 NA, Water Immersion Objective. <p> </p>With this setup we were able to measure FAD contributions from <i>ex-vivo </i>chicken corneas collected from a local slaughterhouse..
Metabolic imaging can be a valuable tool in the early diagnosis of corneal diseases. Cell metabolic changes can be assessed through non-invasive optical methods due to the autofluorescence of metabolic co-factors nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NADH) and flavin adenine dinucleotide (FAD). Both molecules exhibit double exponential fluorescence decays, with well-separated short and long lifetime components, which are related to their protein-bound and free states. Corneal metabolism can be monitored by measuring the relative contribution of these two components.<p> </p> Here we report on the development of a fluorescence lifetime imaging microscope for in vivo measurement of FAD fluorescence lifetimes in corneal cells. The microscope is based on one-photon fluorescence excitation, through a pulsed blue diode laser. Fluorescence lifetime imaging is achieved using the Time-Gated technique. Structured illumination is used to improve the low axial resolution of wide-field time-gated FLIM. A Digital Micromirror Device (DMD) is used to produce the sinusoidal patterns required by structural illumination. The DMD control is integrated with the acquisition software of the imaging system which is based on an ultra-high speed gated image intensifier coupled to a CCD camera.<p> </p> We present preliminary results concerning optical and timing performance of the fluorescence lifetime microscope. Preliminary tests with <i>ex-vivo </i>bovine corneas are also described.