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Biophys J. 2002 Dec;83(6):3652-64.

Fluorescence resonance energy transfer-based stoichiometry in living cells.

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Department of Microbiology and Immunology, University of Michigan Medical School, Ann Arbor, MI 48109, USA.


Imaging of fluorescence resonance energy transfer (FRET) between fluorescently labeled molecules can measure the timing and location of intermolecular interactions inside living cells. Present microscopic methods measure FRET in arbitrary units, and cannot discriminate FRET efficiency and the fractions of donor and acceptor in complex. Here we describe a stoichiometric method that uses three microscopic fluorescence images to measure FRET efficiency, the relative concentrations of donor and acceptor, and the fractions of donor and acceptor in complex in living cells. FRET stoichiometry derives from the concept that specific donor-acceptor complexes will give rise to a characteristic FRET efficiency, which, if measured, can allow stoichiometric discrimination of interacting components. A first equation determines FRET efficiency and the fraction of acceptor molecules in complex with donor. A second equation determines the fraction of donor molecules in complex by estimating the donor fluorescence lost due to energy transfer. This eliminates the need for acceptor photobleaching to determine total donor concentrations and allows for repeated measurements from the same cell. A third equation obtains the ratio of total acceptor to total donor molecules. The theory and method were confirmed by microscopic measurements of fluorescence from cyan fluorescent protein (CFP), citrine, and linked CFP-Citrine fusion protein, in solutions and inside cells. Together, the methods derived from these equations allow sensitive, rapid, and repeatable detection of donor-, acceptor-, and donor-acceptor complex stoichiometry at each pixel in an image. By accurately imaging molecular interactions, FRET stoichiometry opens new areas for quantitative study of intracellular molecular networks.

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