We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Otherwise, we'll assume you're OK to continue.

Durham University

Department of Chemistry

Publication details for Prof. J.A. Gareth Williams

Baggaley, Elizabeth, Botchway, Stanley W., Haycock, John W., Morris, Hayley, Sazanovich, Igor V., Williams, J. A. Gareth & Weinstein, Julia A. (2014). Long-lived metal complexes open up microsecond lifetime imaging microscopy under multiphoton excitation: from FLIM to PLIM and beyond. Chemical Science 5(3): 879-886.

Author(s) from Durham


Lifetime imaging microscopy with sub-micron resolution provides essential understanding of living systems by allowing both the visualisation of their structure, and the sensing of bio-relevant analytes in vivo using external probes. Chemistry is pivotal for the development of the next generation of bio-tools, where contrast, sensitivity, and molecular specificity facilitate observation of processes fundamental to life. A fundamental limitation at present is the nanosecond lifetime of conventional fluorescent probes which typically confines the sensitivity to sub-nanosecond changes, whilst nanosecond background autofluorescence compromises the contrast. High-resolution visualization with complete background rejection and simultaneous mapping of bio-relevant analytes including oxygen – with sensitivity orders of magnitude higher than that currently attainable – can be achieved using time-resolved emission imaging microscopy (TREM) in conjunction with probes with microsecond (or longer) lifetimes. Yet the microsecond timescale has so far been incompatible with available multiphoton excitation/detection technologies. Here we realize for the first time microsecond-imaging with multiphoton excitation whilst maintaining the essential sub-micron spatial resolution. The new method is background-free and expands available imaging and sensing timescales 1000-fold. Exploiting the first engineered water-soluble member of a family of remarkably emissive platinum-based, microsecond-lived probes amongst others, we demonstrate (i) the first instance of background-free multiphoton-excited microsecond depth imaging of live cells and histological tissues, (ii) over an order-of-magnitude variation in the probe lifetime in vivo in response to the local microenvironment. The concept of two-photon TREM can be seen as “FLIM + PLIM” as it can be used on any timescale, from ultrafast fluorescence of organic molecules to slower emission of transition metal complexes or lanthanides/actinides, and combinations thereof. It brings together transition metal complexes as versatile emissive probes with the new multiphoton-excitation/microsecond-detection approach to create a transformative framework for multiphoton imaging and sensing across biological, medicinal and material sciences.