Multiphoton excitation was originally projected to improve live cell fluorescence imaging by minimizing photobleaching effects outside the focal plane, yet reports suggest that photobleaching within the focal plane is actually worse than with one photon excitation. We confirm that when imaging enhanced green fluorescent protein, photobleaching is indeed more acute within the multiphoton excitation volume, so that whilst fluorescence increases as predicted with the square of the excitation power, photobleaching rates increase with a higher order relationship. Crucially however, multiphoton excitation also affords unique opportunities for substantial improvements to fluorescence detection. By using a Pockels cell to minimize exposure of the specimen together with multiple nondescanned detectors we show quantitatively that for any particular bleach rate multiphoton excitation produces significantly more signal than one photon excitation confocal microscopy in high resolution Z-axis sectioning of thin samples. Both modifications are readily implemented on a commercial multiphoton microscope system.
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