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In vivo imaging with a fast large-area multiphoton exoscope (FLAME) captures the melanin distribution heterogeneity in human skin


Melanin plays a significant role in the regulation of epidermal homeostasis and photoprotection of human skin. The assessment of its epidermal distribution and overall content is of great interest due to its involvement in a wide range of physiological and pathological skin processes. Among several spectroscopic and optical imaging methods that have been reported for non-invasive quantification of melanin in human skin, the approach based on the detection of two-photon excited fluorescence lifetime distinguishes itself by enabling selective detection of melanin with sub-cellular resolution, thus facilitating its quantification while also resolving its depth-profile. A key limitation of prior studies on the melanin assessment based on this approach is their inability to account for the skin heterogeneity due to the reduced field of view of the images, which results in high dispersion of the measurement values. Pigmentation in both normal and pathological human skin is highly heterogeneous and its macroscopic quantification is critical for reliable measurements of the epidermal melanin distribution and for capturing melanin-related sensitive dynamic changes as a response to treatment. In this work, we employ a fast large-area multiphoton exoscope (FLAME), recently developed by our group for clinical skin imaging, that has the ability to evaluate the 3D distribution of epidermal melanin content in vivo macroscopically (millimeter scale) with microscopic resolution (sub-micron) and rapid acquisition rates (minutes). We demonstrate significant enhancement in the reliability of the melanin density and distribution measurements across Fitzpatrick skin types I to V by capturing the intra-subject pigmentation heterogeneity enabled by the large volumetric sampling. We also demonstrate the potential of this approach to provide consistent measurement results when imaging the same skin area at different times. These advances are critical for clinical and research applications related to monitoring pigment modulation as a response to therapies against pigmentary skin disorders, skin aging, as well as skin cancers.

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