We aim to investigate the mechanism of acetowhitening upon which the colposcopic diagnosis of cervical cancer is based. The changes in light scattering induced by acetic acid in intact cervical cancer cells and cellular components were studied using elastic light-scattering spectroscopy. After adding acetic acid to intact cancer cell culture samples (cell suspensions and attached monolayer cell cultures), a slight decrease in small-angle forward scattering was observed, while the large-angle scattering increased by a factor of 5–9, indicating that acetowhitening signals are mainly contributed from small-sized intracellular scattering structures. The cellular components of different sizes and masses were isolated to investigate their individual contribution to the changes of light scattering induced by acetic acid. The study provided the evidence that the cellular components of diameter smaller than in the cytoplasm are the major contributors to the acetowhitening effect in whole cells, while the light scattering from the mitochondria are not sensitive to the acetic acid.
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