Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Metal-induced energy transfer for live cell nanoscopy


The discovery of Förster resonance energy transfer (FRET)1 has revolutionized our ability to measure inter- and intramolecular distances on the nanometre scale using fluorescence imaging. The phenomenon is based on electromagnetic-field-mediated energy transfer from an optically excited donor to an acceptor. We replace the acceptor molecule with a metallic film and use the measured energy transfer efficiency from donor molecules to metal surface plasmons2 to accurately deduce the distance between the molecules and metal. Like FRET, this makes it possible to localize emitters with nanometre accuracy, but the distance range over which efficient energy transfer takes place is an order of magnitude larger than for conventional FRET. This creates a new way to localize fluorescent entities on a molecular scale, over a distance range of more than 100 nm. We demonstrate the power of this method by profiling the basal lipid membrane of living cells.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Rent or buy this article

Prices vary by article type



Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout

Figure 1: Metal-induced fluorescence lifetime modification.
Figure 2: Fluorescence lifetime imaging.
Figure 3: Three-dimensional reconstruction of the basal cell membrane.
Figure 4: Comparison of three cell lines.


  1. Förster, Th. Zwischenmolekulare energiewanderung und fluoreszenz. Ann. Phys. 437, 55–75 (1948).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Drexhage, K. H. Interaction of light with monomolecular dye layers. Prog. Opt. 12, 163–232 (1974).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  3. Hell, S. W. Strategy for far-field optical imaging and writing without diffraction limit. Phys. Lett. A 326, 140–145 (2004).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  4. Rust, M. J., Bates, M. & Zhuang, X. Sub-diffraction-limit imaging by stochastic optical reconstruction microscopy (STORM). Nature Methods 3, 793–795 (2006).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Betzig, E. et al. Imaging intracellular fluorescent proteins at nanometer resolution. Science 313, 1642–1645 (2006).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  6. Hess, S. T., Girirajan, T. P. K. & Mason, M. D. Ultra-high resolution imaging by fluorescence photoactivation localization microscopy. Biophys. J. 91, 4258–4272 (2006).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  7. Purcell, E. M. Spontaneous emission probabilities at radio frequencies. Phys. Rev. 69, 681 (1946).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Lukosz, W. & Kunz, R. E. Light emission by magnetic and electric dipoles close to a plane interface. I. Total radiated power. J. Opt. Soc. Am. 67, 1607–1615 (1977).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  9. Chance, R. R., Prock, A. & Silbey, R. Molecular fluorescence and energy transfer near interfaces. Adv. Chem. Phys. 37, 1–65 (1978).

    Google Scholar 

  10. Colyer, R. A., Lee, C. & Gratton, E. A novel fluorescence lifetime imaging system that optimizes photon efficiency. Microsc. Res. Tech. 71, 201–213 (2008).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Chizhik, A. I. et al. Probing the radiative transition of single molecules with a tunable microresonator. Nano Lett. 11, 1700–1703 (2011).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  12. Chizhik, A. I. et al. Electrodynamic coupling of electric dipole emitters to a fluctuating mode density within a nanocavity. Phys. Rev. Lett. 108, 163002 (2012).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  13. Chizhik, A. I., Gregor, I. & Enderlein, J. Quantum yield measurement in a multicolor chromophore solution using a nanocavity. Nano Lett. 13, 1348–1351 (2013).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  14. Enderlein, J. Single-molecule fluorescence near a metal layer. Chem. Phys. 247, 1–9 (1999).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Winckler, P., Jaffiol, R., Plain, J. & Royer, P. Nonradiative excitation fluorescence: probing volumes down to the attoliter range. J. Phys. Chem. Lett. 1, 2451–2454 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Berndt, M., Lorenz, M., Enderlein, J. & Diez, S. Axial nanometer distances measured by fluorescence lifetime imaging microscopy. Nano Lett. 10, 1497–1500 (2010).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  17. Braun, D. & Fromherz, P. Fluorescence interferometry of neuronal cell adhesion on microstructured silicon. Phys. Rev. Lett. 81, 5241–5244 (1998).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  18. Patra, D., Gregor, I. & Enderlein, J. Image analysis of defocused single-molecule images for three-dimensional molecule orientation studies. J. Phys. Chem. A 108, 6836–6841 (2004).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Heitmann, V., Reiss, B. & Wegener, J. The quartz crystal microbalance in cell biology: basics and applications. Chem. Sens. Biosens. 5, 303–338 (2007).

    Google Scholar 

Download references


The authors thank the referees of this manuscript for enhancing the quality of the work. The authors also thank S. W. Hell for valuable advice. Financial support by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft is acknowledged (SFB 937, project A5, A14). A.I.C. also acknowledges financial support from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, and J.R. acknowledges financial support from the Boehringer Ingelheim Fonds.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



A.I.C., J.R., A.J. and J.E. conceived and designed the experiments. A.I.C. and J.R. performed the experiments. A.I.C., J.R. and J.E. analysed the data. A.I.C., J.R., I.G., A.J. and J.E. contributed materials/analysis tools. A.I.C., J.R., A.J. and J.E. wrote the paper.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Alexey I. Chizhik or Jörg Enderlein.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary information

Supplementary information (PDF 1007 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Chizhik, A., Rother, J., Gregor, I. et al. Metal-induced energy transfer for live cell nanoscopy. Nature Photon 8, 124–127 (2014).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing