Measurements of ionic concentrations in skin have traditionally been performed with an array of methods which either did not reveal detailed localization information, or only provided qualitative, not quantitative information. FLIM combines a number of advantages into a method ideally suited to visualize concentrations of ions such as H+ in intact, unperturbed epidermis and stratum corneum (SC). Fluorescence lifetime is dye concentration-independent, the method requires only low light intensities and is therefore not prone to photobleaching or phototoxic artifacts, and because multiphoton lasers of IR wavelength are used, light penetrates deep into intact tissue. The standard method to measure SC pH is the flat pH electrode, which provides reliable information only about surface pH changes, without further vertical or subcellular spatial resolution; i.e., specific microdomains such as the corneocyte interstices are not resolved, and the deeper SC is inaccessible without resorting to inherently disruptive stripping methods. Furthermore, the concept of a gradient of pH through the SC stems from such stripping experiments, but other confirmation for this concept is lacking. Our investigations into the SC pH distribution so far have revealed the crucial role of the Sodium/Hydrogen Antiporter NHE1 in generation of SC acidity, the colocalization of enzymatic lipid processing activity in the SC with acidic domains of the SC, and the timing and localization of emerging acidity in the SC of newborns. Together, these results have led to an improved understanding of the SC pH, its distribution, origin, and regulation. Future uses for this method include measurements of other ions important for epidermal processes, such as Ca2+, and a quantitative approach to topical drug penetration.
Fluorescent probes have found widespread use in biomedical sciences. Particularly since they can be targeted to cellular compartments and further more can report on the properties of their environment such as calcium concentration. Near infrared ultrafast lasers find increasing use for fluorescence applications since femtosecond pulses with a few milliwatts of average power are sufficient to induce significant two photon fluorescence from the probe when focused into typical samples. The nonlinear optical excitation process allows sectioned imaging of 3-D samples without use of a confocal pinhole. In this paper we describe two aspects of multiphoton microscopy: the two- photon excitation cross section and the fluorescence lifetime. Of interest is the wavelength characterization of two-photon excitation cross-sections of fluorescence probes. We slowly modulate (~500Hz) the intensity envelope of the input laser pulse train and analyze the emission signal in terms of the amplitude and phase of the harmonics of this modulation. In effect this is a power study that allows separation of different order effects. An application of ultrafast laser excitation that exploits many of the features outlined above is measurement of pH gradients in the skin. This is essential to skin barrier function and disruption of the gradient is thought to be an indicating factor in many skin diseases. A probe for which the fluorescence lifetime varies with pH is used. We thus are able to tackle problems associated with inhomogeneous labeling. We have developed a two-photon laser-scanning lifetime microscope and present pH maps of skin obtained with this instrument.