On the impact of competing intra- and intermolecular triplet-state quenching on photobleaching and photoswitching kinetics of organic fluorophores
While buffer cocktails remain the most commonly used method for photostabilization and photoswitching of fluorescent markers, intramolecular triplet-state quenchers emerge as an alternative strategy to impart fluorophores with ‘self-healing’ or even functional properties such as photoswitching. In this contribution, we evaluated combinations of both approaches and show that inter- and intramolecular triplet-state quenching processes compete with each other. We find that although the rate of triplet-state quenching is additive, the photostability is limited by the faster pathway. Often intramolecular processes dominate the photophysical situation for combinations of covalently-linked and solution-based photostabilizers and photoswitching agents. Furthermore we show that intramolecular photostabilizers can protect fluorophores from reversible off-switching events caused by solution-additives, which was previously misinterpreted as photobleaching. Our studies also provide practical guidance for usage of photostabilizer–dye conjugates for STORM-type super-resolution microscopy permitting the exploitation of their improved photophysics for increased spatio-temporal resolution. Finally, we provide evidence that the biochemical environment, e.g., proximity of aromatic amino-acids such as tryptophan, reduces the photostabilization efficiency of commonly used buffer cocktails. Not only have our results important implications for a deeper mechanistic understanding of self-healing dyes, but they will provide a general framework to select label positions for optimal and reproducible photostability or photoswitching kinetics in different biochemical environments.