Nature materials

High-resolution three-photon biomedical imaging using doped ZnS nanocrystals.

PMID 23416726


Three-photon excitation is a process that occurs when three photons are simultaneously absorbed within a luminophore for photo-excitation through virtual states. Although the imaging application of this process was proposed decades ago, three-photon biomedical imaging has not been realized yet owing to its intrinsic low quantum efficiency. We herein report on high-resolution in vitro and in vivo imaging by combining three-photon excitation of ZnS nanocrystals and visible emission from Mn(2+) dopants. The large three-photon cross-section of the nanocrystals enabled targeted cellular imaging under high spatial resolution, approaching the theoretical limit of three-photon excitation. Owing to the enhanced Stokes shift achieved through nanocrystal doping, the three-photon process was successfully applied to high-resolution in vivo tumour-targeted imaging. Furthermore, the biocompatibility of ZnS nanocrystals offers great potential for clinical applications of three-photon imaging.