Biochemical imaging of human atherosclerotic plaques with fluorescence lifetime angioscopy.
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A prototype angioscopy system with fluorescence lifetime imaging microscopy (FLIM) capabilities was built and applied for biochemical imaging of human coronary atherosclerotic plaques. The FLIM angioscopy prototype consisted of a thin flexible angioscope suitable for UV-excited autofluorescence imaging, and a FLIM detection system based on a pulse sampling approach. The angioscope was composed of an imaging bundle attached to a gradient index objective lens and surrounded by a ring of illumination fibers (2 mm outer diameter, 50 microm spatial resolution). For FLIM detection based on the pulse sampling approach, a gated-intensified charge-couple device camera (200 ps temporal resolution) was used. Autofluorescence was excited with a pulsed UV laser (337 nm) and FLIM images were acquired at three emission bands (390/40 nm, 450/40 nm, 550/88 nm). The system was characterized on standard fluorophores and then used to image postmortem human coronary arteries. The FLIM angioscope allowed us to distinguish elastin-dominant plaques (peak emission at 450 nm, approximately 1.5 ns lifetimes) from collagen-dominant plaques (peak emission at 390 n, approximately 2-3 ns lifetimes) based on their intrinsic fluorescence spectral and lifetime differences. This study demonstrates the potential of FLIM angioscopy for biochemical imaging of human coronary atherosclerotic plaques.