Focal volume optics and experimental artifacts in confocal fluorescence correlation spectroscopy

Biophys J. 2002 Oct;83(4):2300-17. doi: 10.1016/S0006-3495(02)73990-8.


Fluorescence correlation spectroscopy (FCS) can provide a wealth of information about biological and chemical systems on a broad range of time scales (<1 micros to >1 s). Numerical modeling of the FCS observation volume combined with measurements has revealed, however, that the standard assumption of a three-dimensional Gaussian FCS observation volume is not a valid approximation under many common measurement conditions. As a result, the FCS autocorrelation will contain significant, systematic artifacts that are most severe with confocal optics when using a large detector aperture and aperture-limited illumination. These optical artifacts manifest themselves in the fluorescence correlation as an apparent additional exponential component or diffusing species with significant (>30%) amplitude that can imply extraneous kinetics, shift the measured diffusion time by as much as approximately 80%, and cause the axial ratio to diverge. Artifacts can be minimized or virtually eliminated by using a small confocal detector aperture, underfilled objective back-aperture, or two-photon excitation. However, using a detector aperture that is smaller or larger than the optimal value (approximately 4.5 optical units) greatly reduces both the count rate per molecule and the signal-to-noise ratio. Thus, there is a tradeoff between optimizing signal-to-noise and reducing experimental artifacts in one-photon FCS.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Biophysical Phenomena
  • Biophysics*
  • Kinetics
  • Microscopy, Confocal / instrumentation*
  • Microscopy, Confocal / methods*
  • Models, Statistical
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Normal Distribution
  • Optics and Photonics*
  • Photons