FRET efficiency measurement in a molecular tension probe with a low-cost frequency-domain fluorescence lifetime imaging microscope

John Paul Dumas, James Y. Jiang, Evan M. Gates, Brenton D. Hoffman, Mark C. Pierce, Nada N. Boustany

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


We demonstrate the possibility of measuring FRET efficiency with a low-cost frequency-domain fluorescence lifetime imaging microscope (FD-FLIM). The system utilizes single-frequency-modulated excitation, which enables the use of cost-effective laser sources and electronics, simplification of data acquisition and analysis, and a dual-channel detection capability. Following calibration with coumarin 6, we measured the apparent donor lifetime in mTFP1-mVenus FRET standards expressed in living cells. We evaluated the system's sensitivity by differentiating the short and long lifetimes of mTFP1 corresponding to the known standards' high and low FRET efficiency, respectively. Furthermore, we show that the lifetime of the vinculin tension sensor, VinTS, at focal adhesions (2.30 ± 0.16 ns) is significantly (p < 10-6) longer than the lifetime of the unloaded TSMod probe (2.02 ± 0.16 ns). The pixel dwell time was 6.8 μs for samples expressing the FRET standards, with signal typically an order of magnitude higher than VinTS. The apparent FRET efficiency (EFRETapp) of the standards, calculated from the measured apparent lifetime, was linearly related to their known FRET efficiency by a factor of 0.92 to 0.99 (R2 = 0.98). This relationship serves as a calibration curve to convert apparent FRET to true FRET and circumvent the need to measure multiexponential lifetime decays. This approach yielded a FRET efficiency of 18% to 19.5%, for VinTS, in agreement with published values. Taken together, our results demonstrate a cost-effective, fast, and sensitive FD-FLIM approach with the potential to facilitate applications of FLIM in mechanobiology and FRET-based biosensing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number126501
JournalJournal of Biomedical Optics
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - Dec 1 2019


All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Electronic, Optical and Magnetic Materials
  • Biomaterials
  • Atomic and Molecular Physics, and Optics
  • Biomedical Engineering


  • fluorescence lifetime imaging microscope
  • fluorescence resonance energy transfer
  • frequency domain
  • molecular tension probes
  • vinculin tension sensor

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