Optics express

Real-time 3D stabilization of a super-resolution microscope using an electrically tunable lens.

PMID 27828362


Single-molecule localization microscopy (SMLM) has become an essential tool for examining a wide variety of biological structures and processes. However, the relatively long acquisition time makes SMLM prone to drift-induced artifacts. Here we report an optical design with an electrically tunable lens (ETL) that actively stabilizes a SMLM in three dimensions and nearly eliminates the mechanical drift (RMS ~0.7 nm lateral and ~2.7 nm axial). The bifocal design that employed fiducial markers on the coverslip was able to stabilize the sample regardless of the imaging depth. The effectiveness of the ETL was demonstrated by imaging endosomal transferrin receptors near the apical surface of B-lymphocytes at a depth of 8 µm. The drift-free images obtained with the stabilization system showed that the transferrin receptors were present in distinct but heterogeneous clusters with a bimodal size distribution. In contrast, the images obtained without the stabilization system showed a broader unimodal size distribution. Thus, this stabilization system enables a more accurate analysis of cluster topology. Additionally, this ETL-based stabilization system is cost-effective and can be integrated into existing microscopy systems.