Guided STED nanoscopy enables super-resolution imaging of blood stage malaria parasites
Schloetel, J. G., Heine, J., Cowman, A. F., & Pasternak, M.
Malaria remains a major burden world-wide, but the disease-causing parasites from the genus Plasmodium are difficult to study in vitro. Owing to the small size of the parasites, subcellular imaging poses a major challenge and the use of super-resolution techniques has been hindered by the parasites’ sensitivity to light. This is particularly apparent during the blood-stage of the Plasmodium life cycle, which presents an important target for drug research. The iron-rich food vacuole of the parasite undergoes disintegration when illuminated with high-power lasers such as those required for high resolution in Stimulated Emission Depletion (STED) microscopy. This causes major damage to the sample precluding the use of this super-resolution technique. Here we present guided STED, a novel adaptive illumination (AI) STED approach, which takes advantage of the highly-reflective nature of the iron deposit in the cell to identify the most light-sensitive parts of the sample. Specifically in these parts, the high-power STED laser is deactivated automatically to prevent local damage. Guided STED nanoscopy finally allows super-resolution imaging of the whole Plasmodium life cycle, enabling multicolour imaging of blood-stage malaria parasites with resolutions down to 35 nm without sample destruction.