Investigating protein-protein interactions in living cells using fluorescence lifetime imaging microscopy

Nat Protoc. 2011 Aug 11;6(9):1324-40. doi: 10.1038/nprot.2011.364.


Fluorescence lifetime imaging microscopy (FLIM) is now routinely used for dynamic measurements of signaling events inside living cells, including detection of protein-protein interactions. An understanding of the basic physics of fluorescence lifetime measurements is required to use this technique. In this protocol, we describe both the time-correlated single photon counting and the frequency-domain methods for FLIM data acquisition and analysis. We describe calibration of both FLIM systems, and demonstrate how they are used to measure the quenched donor fluorescence lifetime that results from Förster resonance energy transfer (FRET). We then show how the FLIM-FRET methods are used to detect the dimerization of the transcription factor CCAAT/enhancer binding protein-α in live mouse pituitary cell nuclei. Notably, the factors required for accurate determination and reproducibility of lifetime measurements are described. With either method, the entire protocol including specimen preparation, imaging and data analysis takes ∼2 d.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • CCAAT-Enhancer-Binding Protein-alpha / chemistry*
  • CCAAT-Enhancer-Binding Protein-alpha / metabolism
  • Calibration
  • Dimerization
  • Fluorescence Resonance Energy Transfer
  • Mice
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence / methods*
  • Pituitary Gland / cytology
  • Pituitary Gland / metabolism
  • Protein Interaction Mapping / methods*
  • Signal Transduction


  • CCAAT-Enhancer-Binding Protein-alpha