Combining elemental, chemical, molecular, and morphological imaging information from individual cells with a lateral resolution well below 1 x 1 microm(2) is the current technological challenge for investigating the smallest dimensions of living systems. In the race for such analytical performance, several techniques have been successfully developed; some use probes to determine given cellular contents whereas others use possible interactions between cellular matter with light or elements for characterization of contents. Morphological techniques providing information about cell dimensions have, when combined with other techniques, also opened the way to quantitative studies. New analytical opportunities are now being considered in cell biology, combining top-performance imaging techniques, applied to the same biosystem, with microscopy (nm-mum range) techniques providing elemental (micro-X-ray fluorescence, particle-induced X-ray emission, secondary-ion mass spectrometry), chemical (Raman, coherent anti-stokes Raman, Fourier-transform infrared, and near-field), molecular (UV-visible confocal and multiphoton), and morphological (AFM, ellipsometry, X-ray phase contrast, digital holography) information. Dedicated cell-culture methods have been proposed for multimodal imaging in vitro and/or ex vivo. This review shows that in addition to UV-fluorescent techniques, the imaging modalities able to provide interesting information about a cell, with high spatial and time resolution, have grown sufficiently to envisage quantitative analysis of chemical species inside subcellular compartments.
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