Near-Field Fluorescence Cross-Correlation Spectroscopy on Planar Membranes

The organization and dynamics of plasma membrane components at the nanometer scale are essential for biological functions such as transmembrane signaling and endocytosis. Planarized nanoscale apertures in a metallic film are demonstrated as a means of confining the excitation light for multicolor fluorescence spectroscopy to a 55 ± 10 nm beam waist. This technique provides simultaneous two-color, subdiffraction-limited fluorescence correlation spectroscopy and fluorescence cross-correlation spectroscopy on planar membranes. The fabrication and implementation of this technique are demonstrated for both model membranes and live cells. Membrane-bound proteins were observed to cluster upon the addition of a multivalent cross-linker: On supported lipid bilayers, clusters of cholera toxin subunit B were formed upon cross-linking by an antibody specific for this protein; on living cells, immunoglobulin E bound to its receptor (FcεRI) on the plasma membranes of RBL mast cells was observed to form clusters upon exposure to a trivalent antigen. The formation of membrane clusters was quantified <i>via</i> fluorescence intensity <i>vs</i> time and changes in the temporal auto- and cross-correlations above a single nanoscale aperture. The illumination profile from a single aperture is analyzed experimentally and computationally with a rim-dominated illumination profile, yielding no change in the autocorrelation dwell time with changes in aperture diameter from 60 to 250 nm. This near-field fluorescence cross-correlation methodology provides access to nanoscale details of dynamic membrane interactions and motivates further development of near-field optical methods.