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J Chem Phys. 2008 Jun 14;128(22):225105. doi: 10.1063/1.2918273.

A guide to accurate measurement of diffusion using fluorescence correlation techniques with blinking quantum dot nanoparticle labels.

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Department of Chemistry, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec H3A 2K6, Canada.


Fluctuation-based fluorescence correlation techniques are widely used to study dynamics of fluorophore labeled biomolecules in cells. Semiconductor quantum dots (QDs) have been developed as bright and photostable fluorescent probes for various biological applications. However, the fluorescence intermittency of QDs, commonly referred to as "blinking", is believed to complicate quantitative correlation spectroscopy measurements of transport properties, as it is an additional source of fluctuations that contribute on a wide range of time scales. The QD blinking fluctuations obey power-law distributions so there is no single characteristic fluctuation time for this phenomenon. Consequently, it is highly challenging to separate fluorescence blinking fluctuations from those due to transport dynamics. Here, we quantify the bias introduced by QD blinking in transport measurements made using fluctuation methods. Using computer simulated image time series of diffusing point emitters with set "on" and "off" time emission characteristics, we show that blinking results in a systematic overestimation of the diffusion coefficients measured with correlation analysis when a simple diffusion model is used to fit the time correlation decays. The relative error depends on the inherent blinking power-law statistics, the sampling rate relative to the characteristic diffusion time and blinking times, and the total number of images in the time series. This systematic error can be significant; moreover, it can often go unnoticed in common transport model fits of experimental data. We propose an alternative fitting model that incorporates blinking and improves the accuracy of the recovered diffusion coefficients. We also show how to completely eliminate the bias by applying k-space image correlation spectroscopy, which completely separates the diffusion and blinking dynamics, and allows the simultaneous recovery of accurate diffusion coefficients and QD blinking probability distribution function exponents.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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