Fluorescence resonance energy transfer from cyan to yellow fluorescent protein detected by acceptor photobleaching using confocal microscopy and a single laser

J Microsc. 2003 Jan;209(Pt 1):56-70. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2818.2003.01100.x.


One manifestation of fluorescence resonance energy transfer (FRET) is an increase in donor fluorescence after photobleaching the acceptor. Published acceptor-photobleaching methods for FRET have mainly used wide-field microscopy. A laser scanning confocal microscope enables faster and targeted bleaching within the field of view, thereby improving speed and accuracy. Here we demonstrate the approach with CFP and YFP, the most versatile fluorescent markers now available for FRET. CFP/YFP FRET imaging has been accomplished with a single laser (argon) available on virtually all laser-scanning confocal microscopes. Accordingly, we also describe the conditions that we developed for dual imaging of CFP and YFP with the 458 and 514 argon lines. We detect FRET in a CFP/YFP fusion and also between signalling molecules (TNF-Receptor-Associated-Factors or TRAFs) that are known to homo- and heterotrimerize. Importantly, we demonstrate that appropriate controls are essential to avoid false positives in FRET by acceptor photobleaching. We use two types of negative control: (a) an internal negative control (non-bleached areas of the cell) and (b) cells with donor in the absence of the acceptor (CFP only). We find that both types of negative control can yield false FRET. Given this false FRET background, we describe a method for distinguishing true positive signals. In summary, we extensively characterize a simple approach to FRET that should be adaptable to most laser-scanning confocal microscopes, and demonstrate its feasibility for detecting FRET between several CFP/YFP partners.

MeSH terms

  • Bacterial Proteins / chemistry*
  • Energy Transfer*
  • Fluorescence
  • HeLa Cells
  • Humans
  • Luminescent Proteins / chemistry*
  • Luminescent Proteins / genetics
  • Microscopy, Confocal
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence / methods
  • Photobleaching*
  • Transfection


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Luminescent Proteins
  • yellow fluorescent protein, Bacteria