Simultaneous cathodoluminescence and electron microscopy cytometry of cellular vesicles labeled with fluorescent nanodiamonds†
Light and Transmission Electron Microscopies (LM and TEM) hold potential in bioimaging owing to the advantages of fast imaging of multiple cells with LM and ultrastructure resolution offered by TEM. Integrated or correlated LM and TEM are the current approaches to combine the advantages of both techniques. Here we propose an alternative in which the electron beam of a scanning TEM (STEM) is used to excite concomitantly the luminescence of nanoparticle labels (a process known as cathodoluminescence, CL), and image the cell ultrastructure. This CL-STEM imaging allows obtaining luminescence spectra and imaging ultrastructure simultaneously. We present a proof of principle experiment, showing the potential of this technique in image cytometry of cell vesicular components. To label the vesicles we used fluorescent diamond nanocrystals (nanodiamonds, NDs) of size ≈150 nm coated with different cationic polymers, known to trigger different internalization pathways. Each polymer was associated with a type of ND with a different emission spectrum. With CL-STEM, for each individual vesicle, we were able to measure (i) their size with nanometric resolution, (ii) their content in different ND labels, and realize intracellular component cytometry. In contrast to the recently reported organelle flow cytometry technique that requires cell sonication, CL-STEM-based image cytometry preserves the cell integrity and provides a much higher resolution in size. Although this novel approach is still limited by a low throughput, the automatization of data acquisition and image analysis, combined with improved intracellular targeting, should facilitate applications in cell biology at the subcellular level.