Laser-induced autofluorescence for medical diagnosis

J Fluoresc. 1994 Mar;4(1):17-40. doi: 10.1007/BF01876650.


The naturally occurring autofluorescence of cells and tissues is based on biomolecules containing intrinsic fluorophores, such as porphyrins, the amino acids tryptophan and tyrosine, and the coenzymes NADH, NADPH, and flavins. Coenzymes fluoresce in the blue/green spectral region (fluorecence lifetimes: 0.5-6 ns) and are highly sensitive indicators of metabolic function. Steadystate and time-resolved blue-green autofluorescence is, therefore, an appropriate measure of the function of the respiratory chain as well as of cellular and tissue damage. Autofluorescence in the yellow/red spectral region is based mainly on endogenous porphyrins and metalloporphyrins, such as coproporphyrin, protoporphyrin (fluorescence lifetime of porphyrin monomers: >10 ns), and Zn-protoporphyrin (2 ns). Various pathological microorganisms such asPropionibacterium acnes, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Actinomyces odontolyticus, Bacteroides intermedius, andSaccharomyces cerevisiae are able to synthesize large amounts of these fluorophores and can therefore be located. This permits fluorescence-based detection of a variety of diseases, including early-stage dental caries, dental plaque, acne vulgaris, otitis externa, and squamous cell carcinoma. The sensitivity of noninvasive autofluorescence diagnostics can be enhanced by time-gated fluorescence measurements using an appropriate time delay between ultrashort laser excitation and detection. For example, videocameras with ultrafast shutters, in the nanosecond region, can be used to create "caries images" of the teeth. Alternatively, autofluorescence can be enhanced by stimulating protoporphyrin biosynthesis with the exogenously administered porphyrin precursor 5-aminolevulinic acid (ALA). The fluorophore protoporphyrin IX (PP IX) is photolabile and photodynamically active. Irradiation of PP IX-containing tissue results in cytotoxic reactions which correlate with modifications in fluorescence due to photobleaching and singlet oxygen-dependent photoproduct formation. Therefore, on-line autofluorescence measurements during the phototreatment can yield information on the efficiency of ALA-based photodynamic therapy.