Fluorescence recovery after photobleaching (FRAP) is a widely used imaging technique for measuring the mobility of fluorescently tagged proteins in living cells. Although FRAP presumes that high-intensity illumination causes only irreversible photobleaching, reversible photoswitching of many fluorescent molecules, including GFP, can also occur. Here, we show that this photoswitching is likely to contaminate many FRAPs of GFP, and worse, the size of its contribution can be up to 60% under different experimental conditions, making it difficult to compare FRAPs from different studies. We develop a procedure to correct FRAPs for photoswitching and apply it to FRAPs of the GFP-tagged histone H2B, which, depending on the precise photobleaching conditions exhibits apparent fast components ranging from 9-36% before correction and ∼1% after correction. We demonstrate how this ∼1% fast component of H2B-GFP can be used as a benchmark both to estimate the role of photoswitching in previous FRAP studies of TATA binding proteins (TBP) and also as a tool to minimize the contribution of photoswitching to tolerable levels in future FRAP experiments. In sum, we show how the impact of photoswitching on FRAP can be identified, minimized, and corrected.
Copyright © 2012 Biophysical Society. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.