Dual-laser flow cytometric resonance energy transfer (FCET) is a statistically efficient and accurate way of determining proximity relationships for molecules of cells even under living conditions. In the framework of this algorithm, absolute fluorescence resonance energy transfer (FRET) efficiency is determined by the simultaneous measurement of donor-quenching and sensitized emission. A crucial point is the determination of the scaling factor α responsible for balancing the different sensitivities of the donor and acceptor signal channels. The determination of α is not simple, requiring preparation of special samples that are generally different from a double-labeled FRET sample, or by the use of sophisticated statistical estimation (least-squares) procedures. We present an alternative, free-from-spectral-constants approach for the determination of α and the absolute FRET efficiency, by an extension of the presented framework of the FCET algorithm with an analysis of the second moments (variances and covariances) of the detected intensity distributions. A quadratic equation for α is formulated with the intensity fluctuations, which is proved sufficiently robust to give accurate α-values on a cell-by-cell basis in a wide system of conditions using the same double-labeled sample from which the FRET efficiency itself is determined. This seemingly new approach is illustrated by FRET measurements between epitopes of the MHCI receptor on the cell surface of two cell lines, FT and LS174T. The figures show that whereas the common way of α determination fails at large dye-per-protein labeling ratios of mAbs, this presented-as-new approach has sufficient ability to give accurate results. Although introduced in a flow cytometer, the new approach can also be straightforwardly used with fluorescence microscopes.
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