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Biophys J. 1994 Sep;67(3):948-56.

Lateral diffusion measurement at high spatial resolution by scanning microphotolysis in a confocal microscope.

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  • 1Institut für Medizinische Physik und Biophysik, Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster, Germany.


Fluorescence photobleaching methods have been widely used to study diffusion processes in the plasma membrane of single living cells and other membrane systems. Here we describe the application of a new photobleaching technique, scanning microphotolysis. Employing a recently developed extension module to a commercial confocal microscope, an intensive laser beam was switched on and off during scanning according to a user definable image mask. Thereby the location, geometry, and number of photolysed spots could be chosen arbitrarily, their size ranging from tens of micrometers down to the diffraction limit. Therewith we bleached circular areas on the surface of single living 3T3 cells labeled with the fluorescent lipid analog NBD-HPC. Subsequently, the fluorescence recovery process was observed using the attenuated laser beam for excitation. This yielded image stacks representing snapshots of the spatial distribution of fluorescent molecules. From these we computed the radial distribution functions of the photobleached dye molecules. The variance of these distributions is linearly related to the diffusion constant, time, and the mobile fraction of the diffusing species. Furthermore, we compared directly the theoretically expected and measured distribution functions, and could thus determine the diffusion coefficient from each single image. The results of these two new evaluation methods (D = 0.3 +/- 0.1 micron 2/s) agreed well with the outcome of conventional fluorescence recovery measurements. We show that by scanning microphotolysis information on dynamical processes such as diffusion of lipids or proteins can be acquired at the superior spatial resolution of a confocal laser scanning microscope.

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