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Time-domain single photon-excited autofluorescence lifetime for label-free detection of T cell activation

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Abstract

Fluorescence lifetime imaging microscopy (FLIM) is a powerful technique, capable of label-free assessment of the metabolic state and function within single cells. The FLIM measurements of autofluorescence were recently shown to be sensitive to the functional state and subtype of T cells. Therefore, autofluorescence FLIM could improve cell manufacturing technologies for adoptive immunotherapy, which currently require a time-intensive process of cell labeling with fluorescent antibodies. However, current autofluorescence FLIM implementations are typically too slow, bulky, and prohibitively expensive for use in cell manufacturing pipelines. Here we report a single photon-excited confocal whole-cell autofluorescence system that uses fast field-programmable gate array-based time tagging electronics to achieve time-correlated single photon counting (TCSPC) of single-cell autofluorescence. The system includes simultaneous near-infrared bright-field imaging and is sensitive to variations in the fluorescence decay profile of the metabolic coenzyme NAD(P)H in human T cells due to the activation state. The classification of activated and quiescent T cells achieved high accuracy and precision (area under the receiver operating characteristic curve, AUC = 0.92). The lower-cost, higher acquisition speed, and resistance to pile-up effects at high photon flux compared to traditional multiphoton-excited FLIM and TCSPC implementations with similar SNR make this system attractive for integration into flow cytometry, sorting, and quality control in cell manufacturing.

© 2021 Optical Society of America

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Data Availability

Data underlying the results presented in this paper are available in Ref. [13].

13. “Open Science Framework build guide,” https://osf.io/7w4yd/.

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