Cell and tissue autofluorescence research and diagnostic applications

Biotechnol Annu Rev. 2005;11:227-56. doi: 10.1016/S1387-2656(05)11007-2.


Cells contain molecules, which become fluorescent when excited by UV/Vis radiation of suitable wavelength. This fluorescence emission, arising from endogenous fluorophores, is an intrinsic property of cells and is called auto-fluorescence to be distinguished from fluorescent signals obtained by adding exogenous markers. The majority of cell auto-fluorescence originates from mitochondria and lysosomes. Together with aromatic amino acids and lipo-pigments, the most important endogenous fluorophores are pyridinic (NADPH) and flavin coenzymes. In tissues, the extracellular matrix often contributes to the auto-fluorescence emission more than the cellular component, because collagen and elastin have, among the endogenous fluorophores, a relatively high quantum yield. Changes occurring in the cell and tissue state during physiological and/or pathological processes result in modifications of the amount and distribution of endogenous fluorophores and chemical-physical properties of their microenvironment. Therefore, analytical techniques based on auto-fluorescence monitoring can be utilized in order to obtain information about morphological and physiological state of cells and tissues. Moreover, auto-fluorescence analysis can be performed in real time because it does not require any treatment of fixing or staining of the specimens. In the past few years spectroscopic and imaging techniques have been developed for many different applications both in basic research and diagnostics.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cytodiagnosis / instrumentation
  • Cytodiagnosis / methods*
  • Diagnostic Imaging / instrumentation
  • Diagnostic Imaging / methods
  • Fluorescence*
  • Humans
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence / instrumentation
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence / methods*
  • Neoplasms / chemistry
  • Neoplasms / diagnosis*