Fluorescence correlation spectroscopy (FCS) is an increasingly important tool for determining low concentrations and dynamics of molecules in solution. Oftentimes triplet transitions give rise to fast blinking effects, which are accounted for by including an exponential term in the fitting of the autocorrelation function (ACF). In such cases, concomitant saturation effects also modify the amplitude and shape of the remaining parts of the ACF. We review studies of triplet and saturation effects in FCS and present a simple procedure to obtain more accurate results of particle concentrations and diffusional dynamics in experiments where triplet kinetics are evident, or where moderate laser powers approaching saturation levels are used, for example, to acquire sufficient photon numbers when observation times are limited. The procedure involves use of a modified function for curve-fitting the ACF, but there are no additional fitting parameters. Instead, a simple calibration of the total fluorescence count rate as a function of relative laser power is fit to a polynomial, and the non-linear components of this fit, together with the relative laser power used for the FCS measurement, are used to specify the magnitude of additional terms in the fitting function. Monte Carlo simulations and experiments using Alexa dyes and quantum dots, with continuous and pulsed laser excitation, demonstrate the application of the modified fitting procedure with first order correction terms, in the regime where distortions in the ACF due to photobleaching and detector dead time are small compared to those of fluorescence saturation and triplet photophysics.
Keywords: fluorescence correlation spectroscopy, saturation, triplet, single-molecule detection, autocorrelation, artifacts, simulations, confocal microscopy
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