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Biophys J. 1990 Feb;57(2):325-33.

Determination of three-dimensional imaging properties of a light microscope system. Partial confocal behavior in epifluorescence microscopy.

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Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics, University of California, San Francisco 94143-0448.


We have determined the three-dimensional image-forming properties of an epifluorescence microscope for use in obtaining very high resolution three-dimensional images of biological structures by image processing methods. Three-dimensional microscopic data is collected as a series of two-dimensional images recorded at different focal planes. Each of these images contains not only in-focus information from the region around the focal plane, but also out-of-focus contributions from the remainder of the specimen. Once the imaging properties of the microscope system are characterized, powerful image processing methods can be utilized to remove the out-of-focus information and to correct for image distortions. Although theoretical calculations for the behavior of an aberration-free microscope system are available, the properties of real lenses under the conditions used for biological observation are often far from an ideal. For this reason, we have directly determined the image-forming properties of an epifluorescence microscope under conditions relevant to biological observations. Through-focus series of a point object (fluorescently-coated microspheres) were recorded on a charge-coupled device image detector. From these images, the three-dimensional point spread function and its Fourier transform, the optical transfer function, were derived. There were significant differences between the experimental results and the theoretical models which have important implications for image processing. The discrepancies can be explained by imperfections of the microscope system, nonideal observation conditions, and partial confocal effects found to occur with epifluorescence illumination. Understanding the optical behavior of the microscope system has indicated how to optimize specimen preparation, data collection, and processing protocols to obtain significantly improved images.

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