Biological nanoparticles, including viruses and extracellular vesicles (EVs), are of interest to many fields of medicine as biomarkers and mediators of or treatments for disease. However, exosomes and small viruses fall below the detection limits of conventional flow cytometers due to the overlap of particle-associated scattered light signals with the detection of background instrument noise from diffusely scattered light. To identify, sort, and study distinct subsets of EVs and other nanoparticles, as individual particles, researchers at the National Institutes of Health have developed nanoscale Fluorescence Analysis and Cytometric Sorting (nanoFACS) methods to maximise information and material that can be obtained with high speed, high resolution flow cytometers. This nanoFACS method requires analysis of the instrument background noise (herein defined as the “reference noise”). With these methods, they demonstrate detection of tumour cell-derived EVs with specific tumour antigens using both fluorescence and scattered light parameters. The researchers further validated the performance of nanoFACS by sorting two distinct HIV strains to >95% purity and confirmed the viability (infectivity) and molecular specificity (specific cell tropism) of biological nanomaterials sorted with nanoFACS. This nanoFACS method provides a unique way to analyse and sort functional EV- and viral-subsets with preservation of vesicular structure, surface protein specificity and RNA cargo activity.
Diagram showing the Beckman Astrios EQ optics configuration and noise sources at the stream:laser intersect. The characteristic plane of scattered light at the level of the laser intercept is blocked by the obscuration bar, while the diffusely scattered light is not.