Imaging fluorescence lifetime heterogeneity applied to GFP-tagged MHC protein at an immunological synapse*


  • *

    This article was presented at MicroScience 2004, London, July 2004.

Bebhinn Treanor. Tel.: +44 (0)207 594 5480; fax: +44 (0)207 594 3044; e-mail:


Fluorescence imaging of green fluorescent protein (GFP) may be used to locate proteins in live cells and fluorescence lifetime imaging (FLIM) may be employed to probe the local microenvironment of proteins. Here we apply FLIM to GFP-tagged proteins at the cell surface and at an inhibitory natural killer (NK) cell immunological synapse (IS). We present a novel quantitative analysis of fluorescence lifetime images that we believe is useful to determine whether apparent FLIM heterogeneity is statistically significant. We observe that, although the variation of observed fluorescence lifetime of GFP-tagged proteins at the cell surface is close to the expected statistical range, the lifetime of GFP-tagged proteins in cells is shorter than recombinant GFP in solution. Furthermore the lifetime of GFP-tagged major histocompatibility complex class I protein is shortened at the inhibitory NK cell IS compared with the unconjugated membrane. Following our previous work demonstrating the ability of FLIM to report the local refractive index of GFP in solution, we speculate that these lifetime variations may indicate local refractive index changes. This application of our method for detecting small but significant differences in fluorescence lifetimes shows how FLIM could be broadly useful in imaging discrete membrane environments for a given protein.