On/off blinking and switching behaviour of single molecules of green fluorescent protein

Nature. 1997 Jul 24;388(6640):355-8. doi: 10.1038/41048.


Optical studies of individual molecules at low and room temperature can provide information about the dynamics of local environments in solids, liquids and biological systems unobscured by ensemble averaging. Here we present a study of the photophysical behaviour of single molecules of the green fluorescent protein (GFP) derived from the jellyfish Aequorea victoria. Wild-type GFP and its mutant have attracted interest as fluorescent biological labels because the fluorophore may be formed in vivo. GFP mutants immobilized in aereated aqueous polymer gels and excited by 488-nm light undergo repeated cycles of fluorescent emission ('blinking') on a timescale of several seconds-behaviour that would be unobservable in bulk studies. Eventually the individual GFP molecules reach a long-lasting dark state, from which they can be switched back to the original emissive state by irradiation at 405 nm. This suggests the possibility of using these GFPs as fluorescent markers for time-dependent cell processes, and as molecular photonic switches or optical storage elements, addressable on the single-molecule level.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Escherichia coli
  • Fluorescence
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins
  • Luminescent Proteins / chemistry*
  • Luminescent Proteins / genetics
  • Mutation
  • Photochemistry
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins / chemistry
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins / genetics
  • Scyphozoa


  • Luminescent Proteins
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins