Analysis of fluorescence decay kinetics measured in the frequency domain using distributions of decay times

Joseph R. Lakowicz, Henryk Cherek, Ignacy Gryczynski, Nanda Joshi, Michael L. Johnson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

92 Scopus citations


We describe the theoretical and practical aspects of analyzing complex fluorescence decay kinetics using continuous distributions of decay times. Our analysis uses frequency-domain data, provides for global analysis of multiple data sets and includes the possibility of excited-state processes. Simulated data were used to estimate the types of distributions which can be reasonably recovered from the measurements. Additionally, we describe a variety of distributions recovered from experimental data. For mixtures of one, two or three exponentially decaying fluorophores we recovered narrow lifetime distributions, which are essentially identical to a multi-exponential decay. Similarly, a two-state excited-state reaction also yielded a narrow distribution with negative preexponential factors. The presence of time-dependent spectral relaxation of labeled lipids results in a wide distribution of decay times, which becomes narrower for faster relaxation rates at higher temperatures. Hence, the decay-time distributions appear to be sensitive to the dynamics of the environment surrounding the fluorophore. Additionally, distributions of decay times were observed to result from transient effects in collisional quenching, from energy transfer in the presence of a range of donor-to-acceptor distances, and for several single-tryptophan proteins.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)35-50
Number of pages16
JournalBiophysical Chemistry
Issue number1
StatePublished - Oct 1987


  • Decay-time distribution
  • Fluorescence decay
  • Frequency-domain fluorometry
  • Kinetics


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