A Light-Sheet-Based Imaging Spectrometer to Characterize Acridine Orange Fluorescence within Leukocytes

by Powless, Amy J.; Prieto, Sandra P.; Gramling, Madison R.; Chen, Jingyi; Muldoon, Timothy J.

Low-cost imaging systems that utilize exogenous fluorescent dyes, such as acridine orange (AO), have recently been developed for use as point-of-care (POC) blood analyzers. AO-based fluorescence imaging exploits variations in emission wavelength within different cell types to enumerate and classify leukocyte subpopulations from whole blood specimens. This approach to leukocyte classification relies on accurate and reproducible colorimetric features, which have previously been demonstrated to be highly dependent on the cell staining protocols (such as specific AO concentration, timing, and pH). We have developed a light-sheet-based fluorescence imaging spectrometer, featuring a spectral resolution of 9 nm, with an automated spectral extraction algorithm as an investigative tool to study the spectral features from AO-stained leukocytes. Whole blood specimens were collected from human subjects, stained with AO using POC methods, and leukocyte spectra were acquired on a cell-by-cell basis. The post-processing method involves three steps: image segmentation to isolate individual cells in each spectral image; image quality control to exclude cells with low emission intensity, out-of-focus cells, and cellular debris; and the extraction of spectra for each cell. An increase in AO concentration was determined to contribute to the red-shift in AO-fluorescence, while varied pH values did not cause a change in fluorescence. In relation to the spectra of AO-stained leukocytes, there were corresponding red-shift trends associated with dye accumulation within acidic vesicles and at increasing incubation periods. The system presented here could guide future development of POC systems reliant on AO fluorescence and colorimetric features to identify leukocyte subpopulations in whole blood specimens.