We present novel technical features and results from a two channel confocal fluorescence lifetime microscope, which allows to efficiently investigate fluorescence dynamics down to the single molecule level. The MicroTime 200 time-resolved fluorescence microscope offers a multicolor excitation where different picosecond diode lasers are used. For imaging and positioning purposes we utilize a compact Piezo scanner which allows, due to a novel scanning algorithm and synchronisation technique, a superior movement and positioning accuracy. The data acquisition is completely based on time-correleted single photon counting, where every photon is detected and stored individually with its specific timing information (Time-Tagged Time-Resolved mode). This multiparameter data acquisition scheme offers the opportunity to analyse the parameter dependencies in a multitude of different ways. Standard intensity analysis can be used to reconstruct 2D-images or the temporal evolution (time trace) of the fluorescence of a single spot. The information from the two distinct detector channels additionally allows to investigate the polarisation of the emitted light or its spectral composition, for example for analysis of Fluorescence Resonance Energy Transfer (FRET). The timing information down to a picosecond scale offers the possibility not only to reconstruct fluorescence decay constants of each pixel for the purpose of Fluorescence Lifetime Imaging (FLIM) but also to analyze the fluorescence fluctuation correlation function of any single spot of interest. The flexible multichannel detector scheme enables in this case also a cross-correlation between spectrally separated parts of the emission light, or even identical parts of the fluorescence to eliminate detector artifacts. The photon arrival coincidence analysis can also be expanded in the sub-ns range to study fluorescence antibunching in the fluorescence emission of single molecules. The abilty of combining these different pieces of temporal information allows the construction of extremely powerful analysis methods and assays. We demonstrate a variety of these capabilities with results obtained from fluorescently labeled latex beads, biological samples, and single molecules excited in the blue or red wavelength region.
Keywords: confocal microscopy, fluorescence lifetime imaging, time-correlated single photon counting, single molecule detection, fluorescence correlation spectroscopy
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