Journal article Open Access

Two-photon excitation with pico-second fluorescence lifetime imaging to detect nuclear association of flavanols

Mueller-Harvey, Irene; Feucht, Walter; Polster, Juergen; Trnková, Lucie; Burgos, Pierre; Parker, Anthony W.; Botchway, Stanley W.

Two-photon excitation enabled for the first time the observation and measurement of excited state fluorescence lifetimes from three flavanols in solution, which were ∼1.0 ns for catechin and epicatechin, but <45 ps for epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). The shorter lifetime for EGCG is in line with a lower fluorescence quantum yield of 0.003 compared to catechin (0.015) and epicatechin (0.018). In vivo experiments with onion cells demonstrated that tryptophan and quercetin, which tend to be major contributors of background fluorescence in plant cells, have sufficiently low cross sections for two-photon excitation at 630 nm and therefore do not interfere with detection of externally added or endogenous flavanols in Allium cepa or Taxus baccata cells. Applying two-photon excitation to flavanols enabled 3-D fluorescence lifetime imaging microscopy and showed that added EGCG penetrated the whole nucleus of onion cells. Interestingly, EGCG and catechin showed different lifetime behaviour when bound to the nucleus: EGCG lifetime increased from <45 to 200 ps, whilst catechin lifetime decreased from 1.0 ns to 500 ps. Semi-quantitative measurements revealed that the relative ratios of EGCG concentrations in nucleoli associated vesicles: nucleus: cytoplasm were ca. 100:10:1. Solution experiments with catechin, epicatechin and histone proteins provided preliminary evidence, via the appearance of a second lifetime (τ2 = 1.9–3.1 ns), that both flavanols may be interacting with histone proteins. We conclude that there is significant nuclear absorption of flavanols. This advanced imaging using two-photon excitation and biophysical techniques described here will prove valuable for probing the intracellular trafficking and functions of flavanols, such as EGCG, which is the major flavanol of green tea.

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