Recently it has become possible to study interactions between proteins at the level of single molecules. This requires collecting data from an extremely small volume, small enough to contain one molecule-typically of the order of attoliters (10-18 L). Collection of data from such a small volume with sufficiently high signal-to-noise ratio requires that the rate of photon detection per molecule be high. This calls for a large illuminating light flux, which in turn leads to rapid photobleaching of the fluorophores that are labeling the proteins. To decrease photobleaching, we measured fluorescence from a sample placed on coverslips coated with silver island films (SIF). SIF reduce photobleaching because they enhance fluorescence brightness and significantly decrease fluorescence lifetime. Increase in the brightness effectively decreases photobleaching because illumination can be attenuated to obtain the same fluorescence intensity. Decrease of lifetime decreases photobleaching because short lifetime minimizes the probability of oxygen attack while the fluorophore is in the excited state. The decrease of photobleaching was demonstrated in skeletal muscle. Myofibrils were labeled lightly with rhodamine-phalloidin, placed on coverslips coated with SIF, illuminated by total internal reflection, and observed through a confocal aperture. We show that SIF causes the intensity of phalloidin fluorescence to increase 4-5 fold and its fluorescence lifetime to decrease on average 23-fold. As a consequence, the rate of photobleaching of four or five molecules of actin of a myofibril on Olympus coverslips coated with SIF decreased at least 30-fold in comparison with photobleaching on an uncoated coverslip. Significant decrease of photobleaching makes the measurement of signal from a single cross-bridge of contracting muscle feasible.
- Silver island films