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3-D particle tracking in a two-photon microscope: application to the study of molecular dynamics in cells.


We developed a method for tracking particles in three dimensions designed for a two-photon microscope, which holds great promise to study cellular processes because of low photodamage, efficient background rejection, and improved depth discrimination. During a standard cycle of the tracking routine (32 ms), the laser beam traces four circular orbits surrounding the particle in two z planes above and below the particle. The radius of the orbits is half of the x,y-width of the point spread function, and the distance between the z planes is the z-width of the point spread function. The z-position is adjusted by moving the objective with a piezoelectric-nanopositioner. The particle position is calculated on the fly from the intensity profile obtained during the cycle, and these coordinates are used to set the scanning center for the next cycle. Applying this method, we were able to follow the motion of 500-nm diameter fluorescent polystyrene microspheres moved by a nanometric stage in either steps of 20-100 nm or sine waves of 0.1-10 microm amplitude with 20 nm precision. We also measured the diffusion coefficient of fluorospheres in glycerol solutions and recovered the values expected according to the Stokes-Einstein relationship for viscosities higher than 3.7 cP. The feasibility of this method for live cell measurements is demonstrated studying the phagocytosis of protein-coated fluorospheres by fibroblasts.

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