Saturday 13th August 2022

Multimodal on-chip nanoscopy and quantitative phase imaging reveals the nanoscale

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Significance

We propose the integration of chip-based optical nanoscopy with high spatially sensitive quantitative phase microscopy to obtain three-dimensional (3D) morphology of liver sinusoidal endothelial cells (LSEC). LSEC contain large numbers of transcellular nanopores —“fenestrations”—in the plasma membrane, typically clustered in groups of 10 to 50 within areas called sieve plates. Determining the diameter and the height of fenestrated regions is an important indicator of a cell’s functionality, and these dimensions can be influenced by agents such as drugs. Our proposed multimodal microscope offers a solution for 3D nanoscale characterization of fenestration diameter and measurement of the optical thickness of the sieve plates.

Abstract

Visualization of three-dimensional (3D) morphological changes in the subcellular structures of a biological specimen is a major challenge in life science. Here, we present an integrated chip-based optical nanoscopy combined with quantitative phase microscopy (QPM) to obtain 3D morphology of liver sinusoidal endothelial cells (LSEC). LSEC have unique morphology with small nanopores (50-300 nm in diameter) in the plasma membrane, called fenestrations. The fenestrations are grouped in discrete clusters, which are around 100 to 200 nm thick. Thus, imaging and quantification of fenestrations and sieve plate thickness require resolution and sensitivity of sub-100 nm along both the lateral and the axial directions, respectively. In chip-based nanoscopy, the optical waveguides are used both for hosting and illuminating the sample. The fluorescence signal is captured by an upright microscope, which is converted into a Linnik-type interferometer to sequentially acquire both superresolved images and phase information of the sample. The multimodal microscope provided an estimate of the fenestration diameter of 119 ± 53 nm and average thickness of the sieve plates of 136.6 ± 42.4 nm, assuming the constant refractive index of cell membrane to be 1.38. Further, LSEC were treated with cytochalasin B to demonstrate the possibility of precise detection in the cell height. The mean phase value of the fenestrated area in normal and treated cells was found to be 161 ± 50 mrad and 109 ± 49 mrad, respectively. The proposed multimodal technique offers nanoscale visualization of both the lateral size and the thickness map, which would be of broader interest in the fields of cell biology and bioimaging.

Far-field optical nanoscopy techniques are frequently used to visualize subcellular structures in biological specimens by surpassing the diffraction limit. Optical nanoscopy encompasses a plethora of techniques, including stimulated emission depletion microscopy (1), structured illumination microscopy (SIM) (2), different variants of single-molecule localization microscopy (SMLM), such as photo-activated localization microscopy (3) and direct stochastic optical reconstruction microscopy (dSTORM) (4), and intensity fluctuation–based techniques such as superresolution optical fluctuation imaging (5). These techniques can help detect subcellular structures (<200 nm) of biological specimens such as lipids, proteins, membrane structures, microtubules, and nucleic acids by specific fluorescence tagging (6). Each technique has respective advantages and disadvantages; for example, SIM has gained popularity for live-cell imaging due to its fast image acquisition time but at limited spatial resolution (7). dSTORM, on the other hand, is slower but offers high resolution for characterization of viral proteins (8) and imaging actin filaments in mammalian cells (9, 10), for example. To reduce the complexity of the typical SMLM setup using a total internal reflection fluorescence (TIRF) configuration, a photonic chip-based optical nanoscopy system was recently proposed (1113). In the chip-based system, a photonic integrated circuit is used to replace the usual free space optics for excitation. The collection, however, is done through free space optics. The main advantage of this configuration is the decoupling of excitation and collection pathways as well as miniaturization of the excitation light path of the system. In chip-based nanoscopy, the TIRF illumination is generated through the evanescent field of waveguides rather than using conventional high magnification and high numerical aperture (N.A.) TIRF lens. The evanescent field in waveguides can be generated over extraordinarily large areas, as it is only defined by the waveguide geometry. The waveguide geometry makes it possible to use any imaging objective lens to image arbitrarily large areas as compared to the traditional TIRF-based dSTORM (12), which is limited by the field of view (FOV) of the TIRF lens.

Quantitative phase microscopy (QPM) is a label-free optical microscopy technique, which facilitates sensitive measurements of the refractive index and thickness of both biological specimens (14). Various QPM methods have been proposed so far for extracting optical phase and dynamics of biological cells (1517). These techniques offer high phase sensitivity (spatial and temporal), transverse resolution, and high imaging speed (15). The spatial and temporal phase sensitivity of the QPM system is highly dependent on the illumination source and the type of interferometric geometry, respectively (1719). For example, common path QPM techniques offer better temporal phase sensitivity, which can be used to measure membrane fluctuation of the cells (20). In addition, spatial phase sensitivity of the system can be improved by using low-coherence light sources (halogen lamps and light-emitting diodes [LED]) but requires phase-shifting techniques to utilize the whole FOV of the camera (21). A recent advancement in the QPM technique with superior resolution using structured illumination (22, 23) and three-dimensional (3D) information of the samples has been shown by measuring the phase across multiple angles of illumination. This technique facilitates tomography of various biological specimens such as red blood cells, HT29 cells, and bovine embryos (17, 24). Since the lateral resolution of the QPM technique depends on the N.A. of the objective lens, imaging beyond the diffraction limit (<200 nm) is still challenging and limits the study of subcellular structures. Therefore, it is useful to develop multimodality routes in which different microscopy methods can be utilized to provide complementary information about biological specimens such as liver sinusoidal endothelial cells (LSEC).

Fig. 1 depicts LSEC that contain large numbers of fenestrations. These transcellular nanopores vary in diameter from 50 to 300 nm, which is just below the diffraction limit of optical microscopy (2527). Fenestrations are typically clustered in groups of 5 to 100 within areas called sieve plates (28). The porous morphology of LSEC acts as an ultrafilter between blood and the underlying hepatocytes, facilitating the bidirectional exchange of substrates between the interior of the liver and blood. For example, smaller viruses and drugs can pass this barrier, while blood cells are retained within the sinusoidal vessel lumen (25, 29). The typical thickness of sieve plates is around 100 to 150 nm (30), so fenestrations are consequently nanoscale sized in all three dimensions. As shown in Fig. 1, the fenestrations in sieve plates form openings through the entire LSEC cell body, and therefore TIRF illumination is ideally suited for imaging these structures. Determining the diameter and number of fenestrations, as well as the height of sieve plate regions, is important, as it can be affected by several drugs and conditions (31, 32). The loss of LSEC porous morphology, a process called defenestration, compromises the filtration properties of the liver, which may lead to atherosclerosis (33). Moreover, aging results in “pseudocapillarization,” whereby LSEC simultaneously lose fenestrations and become thicker (34) (Fig. 1). This is believed to be a main factor contributing to the age-related need to increase doses of drugs targeting hepatocytes (e.g., statins) that have to pass through the fenestrations (35). The number of fenestrations in vitro can be increased using actin disrupting agents such as cytochalasin B (27). This treatment decreases the height of LSEC outside of the nuclear area, which contributes to the formation of new fenestrations (36).

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