A primer on fluorescence detection

Yesterday we told you about how to get more data from your western blots by utilizing multiplex fluorescent detection. Today, we will provide you with a primer on fluorescent detection taken from the Bio-Rad Laboratories Protein Blotting Guide.

In fluorescence, a high-energy photon (ℎVex) excites a fluorophore, causing it to leave the ground state (S0) and enter a higher energy state (S’1). Some of this energy dissipates, allowing the fluorophore to enter a relaxed excited state (S1). A photon of light is emitted (ℎVem), returning the fluorophore to the ground state. The emitted photon is of a lower energy
(longer wavelength) due to the dissipation of energy while in the excited state.

When using fluorescence detection, consider the following optical characteristics of the fluorophores to optimize the signal:

  • Quantum yield — efficiency of photon emission after absorption of a photon. Processes that return the fluorophore to the ground state but do not result in the emission of a fluorescence photon lower the quantum yield.Fluorop hores with higher quantum yields are generally brighter

  • Extinction coefficient — measure of how well a fluorophore absorbs light at a specific wavelength. Since absorbance depends on path length and concentration (Beer’s Law), the extinction coefficient is usually expressed in cm–1 M–1. As with quantum yield, fluorophores with higher extinction coefficients are usually brighter

  • Stokes shift — difference in the maximum excitation and emission wavelengths of a fluorophore. Since some energy is dissipated while the fluorophore is in the excited state, emitted photons are of lower energy (longer wavelength) than the light used for excitation. Larger Stokes shifts minimize overlap between the excitation and emission wavelengths, increasing the detected signal

  • Excitation and emission spectra — excitation spectra are plots of the fluorescence intensity of a fluorophore over the range of excitation wavelengths; emission spectra show the emission wavelengths of the fluorescing molecule. Choose fluorophores that can be excited by the light source in the imager and that have emission spectra that can be captured by the instrument. When performing multiplex western blots, choose fluorophores with minimally overlapping spectra to avoid channel crosstalk
  • For more information be sure to download the Protein Blotting Guide from Bio-Rad Laboratories.

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