An experimental application of fluorescence correlation spectroscopy is presented for the detection and identification of fluorophores and auto-Abs in solution. The recording time is between 2 and 60 sec. Because the actual number of molecules in the unit volume (confocal detection volume of about 1 fl) is integer or zero, the fluorescence generated by the molecules is discontinuous when single-molecule sensitivity is achieved. We first show that the observable probability, N, to find a single fluorescent molecule in the very tiny space element of the unit volume is Poisson-distributed below a critical bulk concentration c*. The measured probability means we have traced, for example, 5 x 10(10) fluorophore molecules per ml of bulk solution. The probability is related to the average frequency, C, that the volume of detection contains a single fluorescent molecule and to the concentration, c, of the bulk solution. The analytical sensitivity of an assay is calculated from the average frequency C. In the Goodpasture experiment, we determined as analytical sensitivity a probability of 99.1% of identifying one single immune complex. Under these conditions, a single molecule event is proven. There exist no instrumental assumptions of our approach on which the experiment itself, the theoretical background, or the conclusion are based. Our results open up a broad field for analytics and diagnostics in solution, especially in immunology.

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