van den Engh, G. and Farmer, C.
Photo-bleaching and photon saturation in flow cytometry. Cytometry A 13: 669-677 (1992).

In flow cytometry, small particles travel at a high speed through a bright light spot. The high light intensity at the point of measurement causes measurable photon saturation. This observation indicates that the rate at which individual dye molecules emit photons is close to the maximum emission rate. Despite the short exposure time, individual molecules may go through a few hundred excitation cycles while they are in the light beam. The absorbed light dose causes significant dye destruction. This article presents experimental procedures to determine the extent of photon saturation and photo-bleaching of dyes bound to cell nuclei in a flow cytometer. Measurements of Hoechst and propidium iodide bound to chromatin show that the amount of dye bleached per emitted photon is the same at low and high illumination intensities. This finding indicates that photon emission and dye destruction are both the result of the absorption of single excitation photons. The experimental observations allow rough estimates of the lifetime of the excited state and the lifetime of the molecule. The lifetime of the Hoechst 33258 bound to DNA is estimated to be 100 excitation-relaxation cycles. The average propidium iodide molecule lasts ˜ 200 excitation-relaxation cycles. The theoretical considerations show that the optimal illumination conditions are different for bleaching and nonbleaching dyes. Aoa optical arrangement for high precision measurements of bleaching dyes is presented. Published 1992 by Wiley-Liss, Inc.