We describe a high-performance time-resolved fluorescence (HPTRF) spectrometer that dramatically increases the rate at which precise and accurate subnanosecond-resolved fluorescence emission waveforms can be acquired in response to pulsed excitation. The key features of this instrument are an intense (1 μJ/pulse), high-repetition rate (10 kHz), and short (1 ns full width at half maximum) laser excitation source and a transient digitizer (0.125 ns per time point) that records a complete and accurate fluorescence decay curve for every laser pulse. For a typical fluorescent sample containing a few nanomoles of dye, a waveform with a signal/noise of about 100 can be acquired in response to a single laser pulse every 0.1 ms, at least 105 times faster than the conventional method of time-correlated single photon counting, with equal accuracy and precision in lifetime determination for lifetimes as short as 100 ps. Using standard single-lifetime samples, the detected signals are extremely reproducible, with waveform precision and linearity to within 1% error for single-pulse experiments. Waveforms acquired in 0.1 s (1000 pulses) with the HPTRF instrument were of sufficient precision to analyze two samples having different lifetimes, resolving minor components with high accuracy with respect to both lifetime and mole fraction. The instrument makes possible a new class of high-throughput time-resolved fluorescence experiments that should be especially powerful for biological applications, including transient kinetics, multidimensional fluorescence, and microplate formats.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
Instrumentation and software at University of Minnesota were primarily the work of Igor Negrashov. This research was supported by NIH grants to D.D.T. (Contract Nos. AR032961 and GM027906), J.M.M. (Contract No. F32AR056191), A.S.L. (Contract No. GM069783), and by grants from the Montana Board of Research and Commercialization Technology to G.D.G. (Grant Nos. 08-48 and 10-75).