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Histochem Cell Biol. 1995 Aug;104(2):97-137.

Robert Feulgen Prize Lecture 1995. Electronic light microscopy: present capabilities and future prospects.

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Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, UK.


Electronic light microscopy involves the combination of microscopic techniques with electronic imaging and digital image processing, resulting in dramatic improvements in image quality and ease of quantitative analysis. In this review, after a brief definition of digital images and a discussion of the sampling requirements for the accurate digital recording of optical images, I discuss the three most important imaging modalities in electronic light microscopy--video-enhanced contrast microscopy, digital fluorescence microscopy and confocal scanning microscopy--considering their capabilities, their applications, and recent developments that will increase their potential. Video-enhanced contrast microscopy permits the clear visualisation and real-time dynamic recording of minute objects such as microtubules, vesicles and colloidal gold particles, an order of magnitude smaller than the resolution limit of the light microscope. It has revolutionised the study of cellular motility, and permits the quantitative tracking of organelles and gold-labelled membrane bound proteins. In combination with the technique of optical trapping (optical tweezers), it permits exquisitely sensitive force and distance measurements to be made on motor proteins. Digital fluorescence microscopy enables low-light-level imaging of fluorescently labelled specimens. Recent progress has involved improvements in cameras, fluorescent probes and fluorescent filter sets, particularly multiple bandpass dichroic mirrors, and developments in multiparameter imaging, which is becoming particularly important for in situ hybridisation studies and automated image cytometry, fluorescence ratio imaging, and time-resolved fluorescence. As software improves and small computers become more powerful, computational techniques for out-of-focus blur deconvolution and image restoration are becoming increasingly important. Confocal microscopy permits convenient, high-resolution, non-invasive, blur-free optical sectioning and 3D image acquisition, but suffers from a number of limitations. I discuss advances in confocal techniques that address the problems of temporal resolution, spherical and chromatic aberration, wavelength flexibility and cross-talk between fluorescent channels, and describe new optics to enhance axial resolution and the use of two-photon excitation to reduce photobleaching. Finally, I consider the desirability of establishing a digital image database, the BioImage database, which would permit the archival storage of, and public Internet access to, multidimensional image data from all forms of biological microscopy. Submission of images to the BioImage database would be made in coordination with the scientific publication of research results based upon these data.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS).

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