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Clin Cancer Res. 2008 Apr 15;14(8):2396-404. doi: 10.1158/1078-0432.CCR-07-1609.

Understanding the biological basis of autofluorescence imaging for oral cancer detection: high-resolution fluorescence microscopy in viable tissue.

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  • 1Department of Biomedical Engineering, The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX, USA.



Autofluorescence imaging is increasingly used to noninvasively identify neoplastic oral cavity lesions. Improving the diagnostic accuracy of these techniques requires a better understanding of the biological basis for optical changes associated with neoplastic transformation in oral tissue.


A total of 49 oral biopsies were considered in this study. The autofluorescence patterns of viable normal, benign, and neoplastic oral tissue were imaged using high-resolution confocal fluorescence microscopy.


The autofluorescence properties of oral tissue vary significantly based on anatomic site and pathologic diagnosis. In normal oral tissue, most of the epithelial autofluorescence originates from the cytoplasm of cells in the basal and intermediate regions, whereas structural fibers are responsible for most of the stromal fluorescence. A strongly fluorescent superficial layer was observed in tissues from the palate and the gingiva, which contrasts with the weakly fluorescent superficial layer found in other oral sites. Upon UV excitation, benign inflammation shows decreased epithelial fluorescence, whereas dysplasia displays increased epithelial fluorescence compared with normal oral tissue. Stromal fluorescence in both benign inflammation and dysplasia drops significantly at UV and 488 nm excitation.


Imaging oral lesions with optical devices/probes that sample mostly stromal fluorescence may result in a similar loss of fluorescence intensity and may fail to distinguish benign from precancerous lesions. Improved diagnostic accuracy may be achieved by designing optical probes/devices that distinguish epithelial fluorescence from stromal fluorescence and by using excitation wavelengths in the UV range.

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