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Exposure to light can destroy the ability of a molecule to fluoresce. Such photobleaching limits the use of fluorescence and confocal microscopy in biological studies. Loss of fluorescence decreases the signal-to-noise ratio and so image resolution; it also prevents the acquisition of meaningful data late during repeated scanning (e.g. when collecting three-dimensional images). The aim of this work was to investigate the role of oxygen in the photobleaching of fluorophores bound to DNA in fixed cells, and to explore whether anoxia could minimize such bleaching. Anoxia significantly reduced bleaching rates and changed the order of reaction of both propidium iodide (an intercalator) and chromomycin A3 (a minor-groove binder) bound to DNA; it afforded the greatest protection at low photon fluxes. However, it had no effect on the bleaching of the green fluorescent protein (GFP) covalently attached to a histone and so bound to DNA, probably because the protein shielded the chromophore from oxygen. Bleaching of all three fluorophores depended on photon flux. Practical ways of minimizing bleaching were examined, and examples of three-dimensional images of DNA marked by propidium and GFP (collected under standard and optimized conditions) are presented.

Original publication




Journal article


J Microsc

Publication Date





281 - 296


Cells, Cultured, Chromatin, Chromomycin A3, Fibroblasts, Fluorescent Dyes, Green Fluorescent Proteins, HeLa Cells, Humans, Hypoxia, Imaging, Three-Dimensional, Luminescent Proteins, Microscopy, Confocal, Oxygen, Photobleaching, Photons, Propidium