Chemical contrast for imaging living systems: molecular vibrations drive CARS microscopy

Nat Chem Biol. 2011 Mar;7(3):137-45. doi: 10.1038/nchembio.525.


Cellular biomolecules contain unique molecular vibrations that can be visualized by coherent anti-Stokes Raman scattering (CARS) microscopy without the need for labels. Here we review the application of CARS microscopy for label-free imaging of cells and tissues using the natural vibrational contrast that arises from biomolecules like lipids as well as for imaging of exogenously added probes or drugs. High-resolution CARS microscopy combined with multimodal imaging has allowed for dynamic monitoring of cellular processes such as lipid metabolism and storage, the movement of organelles, adipogenesis and host-pathogen interactions and can also be used to track molecules within cells and tissues. The CARS imaging modality provides a unique tool for biological chemists to elucidate the state of a cellular environment without perturbing it and to perceive the functional effects of added molecules.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Cell Tracking / methods*
  • Contrast Media*
  • Lipid Metabolism
  • Molecular Imaging / methods*
  • Spectrum Analysis, Raman / methods*
  • Vibration


  • Contrast Media