Super-multiplexed Fluorescence Microscopy Via Photostability Contrast
Many areas of biological research rely heavily on fluorescence microscopy to observe and quantify the inner workings of the cell. Traditionally, multiple types of cellular structures or biomolecules are visualized simultaneously with spectrally distinct fluorescent labels. A high degree of multiplexing is desirable as it affords the experiment greater information content, speeding up research timelines. Multiplexing can be increased by imaging a larger number of spectral channels, however, the wide emission spectra of most fluorophores limits multiplexing to four or five labels in standard fluorescence microscopes. Further multiplexing requires another dimension of contrast. Here, we show that photostability differences can be used to distinguish between fluorescent labels. By combining photobleaching characteristics with a novel unmixing algorithm, we resolve up to three fluorescent labels in a single spectral channel and unmix fluorescent labels with nearly identical emission spectra. We apply our technique to organic dyes, autofluorescent biomolecules and fluorescent proteins, and show that the latter are particularly well suited to our method as their bleaching is often reversible. Our approach has the potential to triple the multiplexing capabilities of any digital widefield or confocal fluorescence microscope with no additional hardware, making it readily accessible to a wide range of researchers.