Exploring the possibility of early cataract diagnostics based on tryptophan fluorescence
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A novel route for early cataract diagnostics is investigated based on the excitation of tryptophan fluorescence (TF) at the red edge of its absorption band at 317 nm. This allows penetration through the cornea and aqueous humour to provide excitation of the ocular lens. The steepness of the red edge gives the potential of depth control of the lens excitation. Such wavelength selection targets the population of tryptophan residues, side chains of which are exposed to the polar aqueous environment. The TF emissions around 350 nm of a series of UV-irradiated as well as control lenses were observed. TF spectra of the UV cases were red-shifted and the intensity decreased with the radiation dose. In contrast, intensity of non-tryptophan emission with maximum at 435 nm exhibited an increase suggesting photochemical conversion of the tryptophan population to 435 nm emitting molecules. We demonstrate that the ratio of intensities at 435 nm to that around 350 nm can be used as a measure of early structural changes caused by UV irradiation in the lens by comparison with images from a conventional slit-lamp, which can only detect defects of optical wavelength size. Such diagnostics at a molecular level could aid research on cataract risk investigation and possible pharmacological research as well as assisting surgical lens replacement decisions.