High-resolution colocalization of single dye molecules by fluorescence lifetime imaging microscopy

Anal Chem. 2002 Jul 15;74(14):3511-7. doi: 10.1021/ac025576g.


Conventional fluorescence microscopy can be used to determine the positions of objects in space when those objects are separated by distances greater than several hundred nanometers, as restricted by the diffraction limit of light. Fluorescence microscopy/spectroscopy based on fluorescence resonance energy-transfer techniques can be used to measure separation distances below approximately 10 nm. To fill the gap between these fundamental limits, we have developed an alternative technique for high-resolution colocalization of fluorescent dyes. The technique is based on fluorescence lifetime imaging. Under favorable conditions, the method can be used to distinguish, and to measure the distance between, two dye molecules that are less than 30 nm apart. To demonstrate the method, lifetime images of a mixture of Cy5 and JF9 (rhodamine derivative) molecules statistically adsorbed on a glass surface were acquired and analyzed. Since these two molecular species differ in fluorescence lifetime (for Cy5, tau(f) = 2.0 ns, and for JF9, tau(f) = 4.0 ns), it is possible to assign the contribution of fluorescence of the two dye types to each image pixel using a pattern recognition technique. Since both dye types can be excited using the same laser wavelength, the measurement is free of chromatic aberrations. The results presented demonstrate the first high-precision distance measurements between single conventional fluorescent dyes based solely on fluorescence lifetime.