Multi-photon excited intensity and lifetime fluorescence images relying on endogenous contrast can be analyzed to quantify contributions from key metabolic co-enzymes and associated metabolic function and mitochondrial organization metrics. The high spatio-temporal resolution and context of these non-destructive measurements can be used to provide important insights related to a wide range of samples, conditions and disease models. Corresponding images are acquired from mitochondria, engineered tissues, excised and in vivo human tissues. Recent studies highlight the value of multi-parametric, label-free, metabolic assessments to improve our understanding of traumatic brain injury, (pre)cancer development, and vitiligo lesions.
In this project, we aim to build an unlabeled, two-photon imaging-based approach to identify cellular biomarkers in the context of traumatic brain injuries with subcellular imaging resolutions. So far, we have identified NAD(P)H, FAD, LipDH, and Lipofuscin, four main contributors from the brain cells. And we built a math model to quantify the fluorophore contributions directly from the two photon images. Therefore, we can calculate cellular redox state, the lipofuscin level, which is associated with oxidative stress, as well as the mitochondrial organization, cell-matrix interactions using established optical biomarkers in the lab in a more robust way.
Engineered brain tissue models with human derived cells are a promising platform for improving our understanding of brain function. Our study aims to develop a label-free, two-photon imaging focused approach that enables us to assess important morphological and functional changes that occur in such brain tissue models over time. We acquired spectral, intensity, and lifetime images of the same tissues over two months. Our results indicate that such dynamic monitoring of the cellular and matrix/scaffold components of such tissues is feasible, but complex because multiple fluorophores are present. Thus, a multi-modal, multi-wavelength approach is necessary to quantify meaningful functional changes.
Metabolism plays a critical role in the function of cells and tissues. Changes in metabolic function are hallmarks of numerous conditions, including aging, cancer, obesity and neurodegenerative diseases. Such changes are highly dynamic and heterogeneous at the microscopic scale. Label-free, two-photon microscopic imaging offers opportunities to monitor and characterize such aspects of metabolic function non-destructively. Intensity and lifetime fluorescence measurements from endogenous NAD(P)H and FAD can serve as sensitive indicators of metabolic changes associated with redox state and mitochondrial organization. In fact, a combination of optical metabolic readouts including the redox ratio, NADH bound fraction, and mitochondrial clustering can provide important insights on the specific nature of the metabolic pathway perturbation that yielded the optical changes. Assessment of such information has the potential to improve our understanding, detection, and treatment of numerous diseases. For example, our studies highlight that the use of multiple optical metabolic readouts enables sensitive and specific detection of changes that are associated with adipose tissue type (brown vs beige vs white) and responses to stimuli. In addition, we have discovered that our ability to characterize depth-dependent variations within epithelial tissues, such as the skin and cervix, plays a key role in identifying alterations that occur at the onset of cancer and may be used to develop improved, non-invasive methods for cancer diagnosis. Monitoring of immune system cell activation is another important application area. Such findings pave the way for exploiting label-free, metabolic imaging techniques to understand dynamic cell interaction and their role in the development and treatment of a number of human diseases.
Obesity is associated with a higher risk of developing breast cancer and with worse disease outcomes for women of all ages. The composition, density, and organization of the breast tissue stroma are also known to play an important role in the development and progression of the disease. However, the connections between obesity and stromal remodeling are not well understood. We sought to characterize detailed organization features of the collagen matrix within healthy and cancerous breast tissues acquired from mice exposed to either a normal or high fat (obesity inducing) diet. We performed second-harmonic generation and spectral two-photon excited fluorescence imaging, and we extracted the level of collagen-associated fluorescence (CAF) along with metrics of collagen content, three-dimensional, and two-dimensional organization. There were significant differences in the CAF intensity and overall collagen organization between normal and tumor tissues; however, obesity-enhanced changes in these metrics, especially when three-dimensional organization metrics were considered. Thus, our studies indicate that obesity impacts significantly collagen organization and structure and the related pathways of communication may be important future therapeutic targets.