Mapping the number of molecules and brightness in the laser scanning microscope

Biophys J. 2008 Mar 15;94(6):2320-32. doi: 10.1529/biophysj.107.114645. Epub 2007 Dec 20.


We describe a technique based on moment-analysis for the measurement of the average number of molecules and brightness in each pixel in fluorescence microscopy images. The average brightness of the particle is obtained from the ratio of the variance to the average intensity at each pixel. To obtain the average number of fluctuating particles, we divide the average intensity at one pixel by the brightness. This analysis can be used in a wide range of concentrations. In cells, the intensity at any given pixel may be due to bright immobile structures, dim fast diffusing particles, and to autofluorescence or scattering. The total variance is given by the variance of each of the above components in addition to the variance due to detector noise. Assuming that all sources of variance are independent, the total variance is the sum of the variances of the individual components. The variance due to the particles fluctuating in the observation volume is proportional to the square of the particle brightness while the variance of the immobile fraction, the autofluorescence, scattering, and that of the detector is proportional to the intensity of these components. Only the fluctuations that depend on the square of the brightness (the mobile particles) will have a ratio of the variance to the intensity >1. Furthermore, changing the fluorescence intensity by increasing the illumination power, distinguishes between these possible contributions. We show maps of molecular brightness and number of cell migration proteins obtained using a two-photon scanning microscope operating with a photon-counting detector. These brightness maps reveal binding dynamics at the focal adhesions with pixel resolution and provide a picture of the binding and unbinding process in which dim molecules attach to the adhesions or large molecular aggregates dissociate from adhesion.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biophysics / instrumentation*
  • Biophysics / methods
  • CHO Cells
  • Cell Adhesion
  • Cricetinae
  • Cricetulus
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins / chemistry
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted / instrumentation
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted / methods*
  • Lasers*
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence / instrumentation
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence / methods*
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Paxillin / chemistry
  • Protein Binding
  • Scattering, Radiation


  • Paxillin
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins