Time-gated luminescence microscopy allowing direct visual inspection of lanthanide-stained microorganisms in background-free condition.

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Journal Article
Analytical chemistry, 2011, 83 (6), pp. 2294 - 2300
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Application of standard immuno-fluorescence microscopy techniques for detection of rare-event microorganisms in dirty samples is severely limited by autofluorescence of nontarget organisms or other debris. Time-gated detection using gateable array detectors in combination with microsecond-lifetime luminescent bioprobes (usually lanthanide-based) is highly effective in suppression of (nanosecond-lifetime) autofluorescence background; however, the complexity and cost of the instrumentation is a major barrier to application of these techniques to routine diagnostics. We report a practical, low-cost implementation of time-gated luminescence detection in a standard epifluorescence microscope which has been modified to include a high-power pulsed UV light-emitting diode (LED) illumination source and a standard fast chopper inserted in the focal plane behind a microscope eyepiece. Synchronization of the pulsed illumination/gated detection cycle is driven from the clock signal from the chopper. To achieve time-gated luminescence intensities sufficient for direct visual observation, we use high cycle rates, up to 2.5 kHz, taking advantage of the fast switching capabilities of the LED source. We have demonstrated real-time direct-visual inspection of europium-labeled Giardia lamblia cysts in dirty samples and Cryptosporidium parvum oocysts in fruit juice concentrate. The signal-to-background ratio has been enhanced by a factor of 18 in time-gated mode. The availability of low-cost, robust time-gated microscopes will aid development of long-lifetime luminescence bioprobes and accelerate their application in routine laboratory diagnostics.
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