Label-Free Imaging of Umbilical Cord Tissue Morphology and Explant-Derived Cells
BACKGROUND The engineering of functional tissues is a complex multi-stage process, the success of which depends on the careful control of culture conditions and ultimately tissue maturation. To enable the efficient optimization of tissue development protocols, techniques suitable for monitoring the effects of added stimuli and induced tissue changes are needed. METHODOLOGY/PRINCIPAL FINDINGS Here, we present the quantitative use of two-photon excited fluorescence (TPEF) and second harmonic generation (SHG) as a noninvasive means to monitor the differentiation of human mesenchymal stem cells (hMSCs) using entirely endogenous sources of contrast. We demonstrate that the individual fluorescence contribution from the intrinsic cellular fluorophores NAD(P)H, flavoproteins and lipofuscin can be extracted from TPEF images and monitored dynamically from the same cell population over time. Using the redox ratio, calculated from the contributions of NAD(P)H and flavoproteins, we identify distinct patterns in the evolution of the metabolic activity of hMSCs maintained in either propagation, osteogenic or adipogenic differentiation media. The differentiation of these cells is mirrored by changes in cell morphology apparent in high resolution TPEF images and by the detection of collagen production via SHG imaging. Finally, we find dramatic increases in lipofuscin levels in hMSCs maintained at 20% oxygen vs. those in 5% oxygen, establishing the use of this chromophore as a potential biomarker for oxidative stress. CONCLUSIONS/SIGNIFICANCE In this study we demonstrate that it is possible to monitor the metabolic activity, morphology, ECM production and oxidative stress of hMSCs in a non-invasive manner. This is accomplished using generally available multiphoton microscopy equipment and simple data analysis techniques, such that the method can widely adopted by laboratories with a diversity of comparable equipment. This method therefore represents a powerful tool, which enables researchers to monitor engineered tissues and optimize culture conditions in a near real time manner.