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J Am Chem Soc. 2007 Apr 18;129(15):4643-54. Epub 2007 Mar 22.

Photobleaching pathways in single-molecule FRET experiments.

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  • 1Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, and California NanoSystems Institute, University of California-Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA 90095, USA.


To acquire accurate structural and dynamical information on complex biomolecular machines using single-molecule fluorescence resonance energy transfer (sm-FRET), a large flux of donor and acceptor photons is needed. To achieve such fluxes, one may use higher laser excitation intensity; however, this induces increased rates of photobleaching. Anti-oxidant additives have been extensively used for reducing acceptor's photobleaching. Here we focus on deciphering the initial step along the photobleaching pathway. Utilizing an array of recently developed single-molecule and ensemble spectroscopies and doubly labeled Acyl-CoA binding protein and double-stranded DNA as model systems, we study these photobleaching pathways, which place fundamental limitations on sm-FRET experiments. We find that: (i) acceptor photobleaching scales with FRET efficiency, (ii) acceptor photobleaching is enhanced under picosecond-pulsed (vs continuous-wave) excitation, and (iii) acceptor photobleaching scales with the intensity of only the short wavelength (donor) excitation laser. We infer from these findings that the main pathway for acceptor's photobleaching is through absorption of a short wavelength photon from the acceptor's first excited singlet state and that donor's photobleaching is usually not a concern. We conclude by suggesting the use of short pulses for donor excitation, among other possible remedies, for reducing acceptor's photobleaching in sm-FRET measurements.

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