Autofluorescence imaging identifies tumor cell-cycle status on a single-cell level.
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The goal of this study is to validate fluorescence intensity and lifetime imaging of metabolic co-enzymes NAD(P)H and FAD (optical metabolic imaging, or OMI) as a method to quantify cell-cycle status of tumor cells. Heterogeneity in tumor cell-cycle status (e. g. proliferation, quiescence, apoptosis) increases drug resistance and tumor recurrence. Cell-cycle status is closely linked to cellular metabolism. Thus, this study applies cell-level metabolic imaging to distinguish proliferating, quiescent, and apoptotic populations. Two-photon microscopy and time-correlated single photon counting are used to measure optical redox ratio (NAD(P)H fluorescence intensity divided by FAD intensity), NAD(P)H and FAD fluorescence lifetime parameters. Redox ratio, NAD(P)H and FAD lifetime parameters alone exhibit significant differences (p<0.05) between population means. To improve separation between populations, linear combination models derived from partial least squares - discriminant analysis (PLS-DA) are used to exploit all measurements together. Leave-one-out cross validation of the model yielded high classification accuracies (92.4 and 90.1 % for two and three populations, respectively). OMI and PLS-DA also identifies each sub-population within heterogeneous samples. These results establish single-cell analysis with OMI and PLS-DA as a label-free method to distinguish cell-cycle status within intact samples. This approach could be used to incorporate cell-level tumor heterogeneity in cancer drug development.