Wavelength-encoded laser particles for massively multiplexed cell tagging

Nat Photonics. 2019 Oct;13(10):720-727. doi: 10.1038/s41566-019-0489-0. Epub 2019 Jul 22.


Large-scale single-cell analyses have become increasingly important given the role of cellular heterogeneity in complex biological systems. However, no current techniques enable optical imaging of uniquely-tagged individual cells. Fluorescence-based approaches can only distinguish a small number of distinct cells or cell groups at a time because of spectral crosstalk between conventional fluorophores. Here we investigate large-scale cell tracking using intracellular laser particles as imaging probes that emit coherent laser light with a characteristic wavelength. Made of silica-coated semiconductor microcavities, these laser particles have single-mode emission over a broad range from 1170 to 1580 nm with sub-nm linewidths, enabling massive spectral multiplexing. We explore the stability and biocompatibility of these probes in vitro and their utility for wavelength-multiplexed cell tagging and imaging. We demonstrate real-time tracking of thousands of individual cells in a 3D tumour model over several days showing different behavioural phenotypes.