Refractive index sensing of green fluorescent proteins in living cells using fluorescence lifetime imaging microscopy

Henk-Jan van Manen, Paul Verkuijlen, Paul Wittendorp, Vinod Subramaniam, Timo K van den Berg, Dirk Roos, Cees Otto

    Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


    We show that fluorescence lifetime imaging microscopy (FLIM) of green fluorescent protein (GFP) molecules in cells can be used to report on the local refractive index of intracellular GFP. We expressed GFP fusion constructs of Rac2 and gp91(phox), which are both subunits of the phagocyte NADPH oxidase enzyme, in human myeloid PLB-985 cells and showed by high-resolution confocal fluorescence microscopy that GFP-Rac2 and GFP-gp91(phox) are targeted to the cytosol and to membranes, respectively. Frequency-domain FLIM experiments on these PLB-985 cells resulted in average fluorescence lifetimes of 2.70 ns for cytosolic GFP-Rac2 and 2.31 ns for membrane-bound GFP-gp91(phox). By comparing these lifetimes with a calibration curve obtained by measuring GFP lifetimes in PBS/glycerol mixtures of known refractive index, we found that the local refractive indices of cytosolic GFP-Rac2 and membrane-targeted GFP-gp91(phox) are approximately 1.38 and approximately 1.46, respectively, which is in good correspondence with reported values for the cytosol and plasma membrane measured by other techniques. The ability to measure the local refractive index of proteins in living cells by FLIM may be important in revealing intracellular spatial heterogeneities within organelles such as the plasma and phagosomal membrane.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)L67-9
    JournalBiophysical Journal
    Issue number8
    Publication statusPublished - 15 Apr 2008


    • Cell Physiological Phenomena
    • Green Fluorescent Proteins
    • Image Interpretation, Computer-Assisted
    • Microscopy, Fluorescence
    • Refractometry
    • Letter
    • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't


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