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Photoelectron imaging of cells: photoconductivity extends the range of applicability.

  • D L Habliston
  • K K Hedberg
  • G B Birrell
  • G F Rempfer
  • O H Griffith
Publication Date
Oct 01, 1995
  • Biology
  • Physics


Photoelectron imaging is a sensitive surface technique in which photons are used to excite electron emission. This novel method has been applied successfully in studies of relatively flat cultured cells, viruses, and protein-DNA complexes. However, rounded-up cell types such as tumor cells frequently are more difficult to image. By comparing photoelectron images of uncoated and metal-coated MCF-7 human breast carcinoma cells, it is shown that the problem is specimen charging rather than a fundamental limitation of the electron imaging process. This is confirmed by emission current measurements on uncoated monolayers of MCF-7 carcinoma cells and flatter, normal Wi-38 fibroblasts. We report here that sample charging in photoelectron microscopy can be eliminated in most specimens by simultaneous use of two light sources--the standard UV excitation source (e.g., 254 nm) and a longer wavelength light source (e.g., 325 nm). The reduction in sample charging results largely from enhanced photoconduction in the bulk sample and greatly extends the range of cells that can be examined by photoelectron imaging. The contributions of photoconductivity, the electric field of the imaging system, and the short escape depths of the photoelectrons combine to make photoelectron imaging a uniquely sensitive technique for the study of biological surfaces.

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