Fluorescence correlation spectroscopy (FCS) is generally used to obtain information about the number of fluorescent particles in a small volume and the diffusion coefficient from the autocorrelation function of the fluorescence signal. Here we demonstrate that photon counting histogram (PCH) analysis constitutes a novel tool for extracting quantities from fluorescence fluctuation data, i.e. the measured photon counts per molecule and the average number of molecules within the observation volume. The photon counting histogram of fluorescence fluctuation experiments, in which few molecules are present in the excitation volume exhibits a super-Poissonian behavior: The additional broadening of the PCH compared to a Poisson distribution is due to fluorescence intensity fluctuations. For diffusing particles these intensity fluctuations are caused by an inhomogeneous excitation profile and the fluctuations in the number of particles in the observation volume N̄. The quantitative relationship between the detected photon counts and the fluorescence intensity reaching the detector is given by Mandel's formula. Based on this equation and considering the fluorescence intensity distribution in the two-photon excitation volume, a theoretical expression for the PCH as a function of the number of molecules in the excitation volume is derived. For a single molecular species two parameters are sufficient to characterize the histogram completely, namely the average number of molecules within the observation volume and the detected photon counts per molecule per sampling time ε. The PCH for multiple molecular species, on the other hand, is generated by successively convoluting the photon counting distribution of each species with the others. The influence of the excitation profile upon the photon counting statistics for two relevant point spread functions (PSFs), the three-dimensional Gaussian PSF conventionally employed in confocal detection and the square of the Gaussian- Lorentzian PSF for two photon excitation, is explicitly treated. Measured photon counting distributions obtained with a two-photon excitation source agree, within experimental error with the theoretical PCHs calculated for the square of a Gaussian-Lorentzian beam profile. We demonstrate and discuss the influence of the average number of particles within the observation volume and the detected photon counts per molecule per sampling interval upon the super-Poissonian character of the photon counting distribution.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This work was supported by the National Institutes of Health (RR03155) and the National Science Foundation (PHY95-13217).