In vivo, real-time confocal imaging

J Electron Microsc Tech. 1991 May;18(1):50-60. doi: 10.1002/jemt.1060180108.


We have adapted a tandem scanning confocal microscope for real-time, non-invasive imaging of cells under in vivo conditions. This form of in vivo confocal imaging relies on the optical sectioning abilities of the confocal microscope to obtain en face, sequential, reflected light images of cells at various depths, up to 1 mm, within opaque organs in living animals. Of major consideration in the design of an in vivo confocal microscope is maximizing the real-time detection of signals reflected from low contrast structures which can be affected by the microscope design, objective, and image detector systems. Using an in vivo confocal microscope design with a 20 x BioOptics surface contact objective we have obtained live cellular images from selected tissues including cornea, kidney, liver, adrenal, thyroid, epididymis, and muscle and connective tissue of rabbits and rats. Images were captured, digitized, and processed using a DAGE Mti low light level SIT camera coupled to a Gould IP9527 image processor. In vivo images were also compared with conventional bright field light and scanning electron microscopic images of "dead," fixed tissues. Overall, in vivo confocal imaging can provide remarkable detail of living cells comparable to that of conventional microscopic images of "dead," fixed, and stained tissue. A more unique feature of in vivo confocal imaging is the ability to study cellular structure and function sequentially over time in the same organ or tissue and represents a fundamentally new paradigm in microscopy. With continued refinements in the microscope, objective and detection system designs and their consequent improvements in lateral and axial resolution, in vivo confocal microscopy will enable us as observers to see what no one has been able to see before.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cells
  • Equipment Design
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Lasers
  • Male
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence / instrumentation*