An autoradiograph is an image on an x-ray film or nuclear emulsion produced by the pattern of decay emissions (e.g., beta particles or gamma rays) from a distribution of a radioactive substance. Alternatively, the autoradiograph is also available as a digital image (digital autoradiography), due to the recent development of scintillation gas detectors or rare earth phosphorimaging systems. The film or emulsion to the labeled tissue section to obtain the autoradiograph (also called an autoradiogram). The auto- prefix indicates that the radioactive substance is within the sample, as distinguished from the case of historadiography or microradiography, in which the sample is X-rayed using an external source. Some autoradiographs can be examined microscopically for localization of silver grains (such as on the interiors or exteriors of cells or organelles) in which the process is termed micro-autoradiography. For example, micro-autoradiography was used to examine whether atrazine was being metabolized by the hornwort plant or by epiphytic microorganisms in the biofilm layer surrounding the plant.


In biology, this technique may be used to determine the tissue (or cell) localization of a radioactive substance, either introduced into a metabolic pathway, bound to a receptor or enzyme, or hybridized to a nucleic acid.

The use of radiolabeled ligands to determine the tissue distributions of receptors is termed either in vivo or in vitro receptor autoradiography if the ligand is administered into the circulation (with subsequent tissue removal and sectioning) or applied to the tissue sections, respectively. The ligands are generally labeled with 3H (tritium) or 125I. The distribution of RNA transcripts in tissue sections by the use of radiolabeled, complementary oligonucleotides or ribonucleic acids (“riboprobes”) is called in situ hybridization histochemistry. Radioactive precursors of DNA and RNA, 3H (thymidine) and 3 (uridine) respectively, may be introduced to living cells to determine the timing of several phases of the cell cycle. RNA or DNA viral sequences can also be located in this fashion. These probes are usually labeled with 32P, 33P, or 35S.

This autoradiographic approach contrasts to techniques such as PET and SPECT where the exact 3-dimensional localization of the radiation source is provided by careful use of coincidence counting, gamma counters and other devices.

Krypton-85 is used to inspect aircraft components for small defects. Krypton-85 is allowed to penetrate small cracks, and then its presence is detected by autoradiography. The method is called “krypton gas penetrant imaging”. The gas penetrates smaller openings than the liquids used in dye penetrant inspection and fluorescent penetrant inspection.

In the realm of behavioral endocrinology, autoradiography can be used to determine hormonal uptake and indicate receptor location. An animal can be injected with a radiolabeled hormone, or the study can be conducted in vitro


Isotopes are variants of a particular chemical element which differ in neutron number, although all isotopes of a given element have the same number of protons in each atom. Applications

Purification of isotopes

Several applications exist that capitalize on properties of the various isotopes of a given element. Isotope separation is a significant technological challenge, particularly with heavy elements such as uranium or plutonium. Lighter elements such as lithium, carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen are commonly separated by gas diffusion of their compounds such as CO and NO. The separation of hydrogen and deuterium is unusual since it is based on chemical rather than physical properties, for example in the Gridler sulfide process. Uranium isotopes have been separated in bulk by gas diffusion, gas centrifugation, laser ionization separation by a type of production mass spectrometry.

Use of chemical and biological properties

  • Isotope analysis is the determination of isotopic signature, the relative abundances of isotopes of a given element in a particular sample. Analysis of such variations has a wide range of applications, such as the detection of adulteration in food products
  • Isotopic substitution can be used to determine the mechanism of a chemical reaction via the kinetic isotope effect.
  • Another common application is isotopic labelling, the use of unusual isotopes as tracers or markers in chemical reactions. However, by using isotopes of different masses, even different nonradioactive stable isotopes can be distinguished by mass spectrometry or infrared spectroscopy. For example, in ‘stable isotope labeling with amino acids in cell culture (SILAC)’ stable isotopes are used to quantify proteins. If radioactive isotopes are used, they can be detected by the radiation they emit (this is called radioisotopic labeling).
  • Isotopes are commonly used to determine the concentration of various elements or substances using the isotope dilution method, whereby known amounts of isotopically-substituted compounds are mixed with the samples and the isotopic signatures of the resulting mixtures are determined with mass spectrometry.

Use of nuclear properties

  • A technique similar to radioisotopic labeling is radiometric dating: using the known half-life of an unstable element, one can calculate the amount of time that has elapsed since a known level of isotope existed. The most widely known example is radiocarbon dating used to determine the age of carbonaceous materials.
  • The most common isotopes used with NMR spectroscopy are 1H, 2D,15N, 13C, and 31
  • Mossbauer spectroscopy also relies on the nuclear transitions of specific isotopes, such as 57
  • Nuclear power and nuclear weapons development require relatively large quantities of specific isotopes. Nuclear medicine and radiation oncology utilize radioisotopes respectively for medical diagnosis and treatment.


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