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Expanding the multicolor capabilities of basic confocal microscopes by employing red and near-infrared quantum dot conjugates.

BMC biotechnology (2009-05-26)
Lara M Kingeter, Brian C Schaefer
ABSTRACT

Confocal microscopy is a widely employed methodology in cellular biology, commonly used for investigating biological organization at the cellular and sub-cellular level. Most basic confocal microscopes are equipped to cleanly discriminate no more than four fluorophores in a given sample, limiting the utility of this method for co-localization, co-expression, and other multi-parameter analyses. In this study, we evaluated the use of red and near-infrared emitting quantum dot staining reagents to expand the multi-parameter capabilities of basic confocal microscopes. We modified a three-laser Zeiss Pascal confocal microscope by the addition of two band-pass filters and one long-pass filter for the detection of three different red to near-infrared quantum dot conjugates. We then performed direct comparisons between organic dye- and quantum dot-labeled detection reagents for the detection of subcellular structures. We found that the quality of staining was generally indistinguishable, although quantum dot reagents do have certain limitations, relative to organic dye conjugates. Using the modified Pascal system, three quantum dot conjugates, two organic dye conjugates, and one fluorescent protein, we demonstrated clean discrimination of six distinct fluorescent labels in a single sample. Our data demonstrate that nearly any basic confocal microscope can be modified by the simple addition of appropriate emission filters, allowing the detection of red and near-infrared quantum dot conjugates. Additionally, quantum dot- and organic dye-based secondary reagents can be successfully combined in complex intracellular staining experiments. Substantial expansion of the multi-parameter capabilities of basic confocal instruments can be achieved with a financial investment that is minimal in comparison to instrument replacement or upgrade with additional lasers.