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Biophys J. 2000 Apr;78(4):2170-9.

Imaging and tracking of single GFP molecules in solution.

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Institut für Medizinische Physik und Biophysik, Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität, Robert-Koch-Strasse 31, D-48149 Münster, Germany.


Visualization and tracking of single fluorescent molecules is a recent development in optical microscopy holding great promise for the study of cell biological processes. However, all experimental strategies realized so far confined the observation to extremely thin interfacial layers. The detection and characterization of single molecules in three-dimensionally extended systems such as living cells has yet to be accomplished. We show, here, for the first time that single protein molecules can be visualized and tracked in three-dimensional (3D) samples at room temperature. Using a wide-field fluorescence microscope equipped with an Ar(+)-laser and a low-light-level CCD camera, single molecules of the green fluorescent protein (GFP) were detected in gels and viscous solutions at depths of up to approximately 10 microm from the interface. A time resolution of 5 ms was achieved by a high-speed framing mode. The two-dimensional localization accuracy was determined to be approximately 30 nm. The number of photons emitted by single GFP molecules before photodestruction was found to be < or = 4 * 10(5). Freely diffusing GFP molecules could be tracked over up to nine images acquired at a frame rate of approximately 80 Hz. From the trajectories, the diffusion coefficients of single GFP molecules were derived and found to agree well with expectation and microphotolysis measurements. Our results imply that the visualization and tracking of single molecules in living cells is possible.

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