The Review of scientific instruments

An instrument for fast acquisition of fluorescence decay curves at picosecond resolution designed for "double kinetics" experiments: application to fluorescence resonance excitation energy transfer study of protein folding.

PMID 22938314


The information obtained by studying fluorescence decay of labeled biopolymers is a major resource for understanding the dynamics of their conformations and interactions. The lifetime of the excited states of probes attached to macromolecules is in the nanosecond time regime, and hence, a series of snapshot decay curves of such probes might - in principle - yield details of fast changes of ensembles of labeled molecules down to sub-microsecond time resolution. Hence, a major current challenge is the development of instruments for the low noise detection of fluorescence decay curves within the shortest possible time intervals. Here, we report the development of an instrument, picosecond double kinetics apparatus, that enables recording of multiple fluorescence decay curves with picosecond excitation pulses over wide spectral range during microsecond data collection for each curve. The design is based on recording and averaging multiphoton pulses of fluorescence decay using a fast 13 GHz oscilloscope during microsecond time intervals at selected time points over the course of a chemical reaction or conformational transition. We tested this instrument in a double kinetics experiment using reference probes (N-acetyl-tryptophanamide). Very low stochastic noise level was attained, and reliable multi-parameter analysis such as derivation of distance distributions from time resolved FRET (fluorescence resonance excitation energy transfer) measurements was achieved. The advantage of the pulse recording and averaging approach used here relative to double kinetics methods based on the established time correlated single photon counting method, is that in the pulse recording approach, averaging of substantially fewer kinetic experiments is sufficient for obtaining the data. This results in a major reduction in the consumption of labeled samples, which in many cases, enables the performance of important experiments that were not previously feasible.

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