Characterization of bright particles at low concentrations by fluorescence fluctuation spectroscopy (FFS) is challenging, because the event rate of particle detection is low and fluorescence background contributes significantly to the measured signal. It is straightforward to increase the event rate by flow, but the high background continues to be problematic for fluorescence correlation spectroscopy. Here, we characterize the use of photon-counting histogram analysis in the presence of flow. We demonstrate that a photon-counting histogram efficiently separates the particle signal from the background and faithfully determines the brightness and concentration of particles independent of flow speed, as long as undersampling is avoided. Brightness provides a measure of the number of fluorescently labeled proteins within a complex and has been used to determine stoichiometry of protein complexes in vivo and in vitro. We apply flow-FFS to determine the stoichiometry of the group specific antigen protein within viral-like particles of the human immunodeficiency virus type-1 from the brightness. Our results demonstrate that flow-FFS is a sensitive method for the characterization of complex macromolecular particles at low concentrations.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This work was supported by a grant from the National Institutes of Health (GM64589).