Two-photon fluorescence excitation has been found to be a very powerful method for enhancing the sensitivity and resolution in far-field light microscopy. Two-photon fluorescence excitation also provides a substantially background-free detection on the single-molecule level. It allows direct monitoring of formation of labelled bio-molecule complexes in solution. Two-photon excitation is created when, by focusing an intensive light source, the density of photons per unit volume and per unit time becomes high enough for two photons to be absorbed into the same chromophore. In this case, the absorbed energy is the sum of the energies of the two photons. In two-photon excitation, dye molecules are excited only when both photons are absorbed simultaneously. The probability of absorption of two photons is equal to the product of probability distributions of absorption of the single photons. The emission of two photons is thus a quadratic process with respect to illumination intensity. Thus in two-photon excitation, only the fluorescence that is formed in the clearly restricted three-dimensional vicinity of the focal point is excited. We have developed an assay concept that is able to distinguish optically between the signal emitted from a microparticle in the focal point of the laser beam, and the signal emitted from the surrounding free labelled reagent. Moreover, the free labels outside the focal volume do not contribute any significant signal. This means that the assay is separation-free. The method based on two-photon fluorescence excitation makes possible fast single-step and separation-free immunoassays, for example, for whole blood samples. Since the method allows a separation-free assay in very small volumes, the method is very useful for high-throughput screening assays. Consequently we believe that two-photon fluorescence excitation will make a remarkable impact as a research tool and a routine method in many fields of analysis.

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