Förster resonance energy transfer (FRET) describes excitation energy exchange between two adjacent molecules typically in distances ranging from 2 to 10 nm. The process depends on dipole-dipole coupling of the molecules and its probability of occurrence cannot be proven directly. Mostly, fluorescence is employed for quantification as it represents a concurring process of relaxation of the excited singlet state S1 so that the probability of fluorescence decreases as the probability of FRET increases. This reflects closer proximity of the molecules or an orientation of donor and acceptor transition dipoles that facilitates FRET. Monitoring sensitized emission by 3-Filter-FRET allows for fast image acquisition and is suitable for quantifying FRET in dynamic systems such as living cells. In recent years, several calibration protocols were established to overcome to previous difficulties in measuring FRET-efficiencies. Thus, we can now obtain by 3-filter FRET FRET-efficiencies that are comparable to results from sophisticated fluorescence lifetime measurements. With the discovery of fluorescent proteins and their improvement toward spectral variants and usability in plant cells, the tool box for in vivo FRET-analyses in plant cells was provided and FRET became applicable for the in vivo detection of protein-protein interactions and for monitoring conformational dynamics. The latter opened the door toward a multitude of FRET-sensors such as the widely applied Ca(2+)-sensor Cameleon. Recently, FRET-couples of two fluorescent proteins were supplemented by additional fluorescent proteins toward FRET-cascades in order to monitor more complex arrangements. Novel FRET-couples involving switchable fluorescent proteins promise to increase the utility of FRET through combination with photoactivation-based super-resolution microscopy.
Keywords: Förster resonance energy transfer; fluorescence microscopy; fluorescent protein; quantitative imaging.