The investigation in this report aimed at providing photophysical evidence that the long-lived triplet excited state plays an important role in the non- single-exponential photobleaching kinetics of fluorescein in microscopy. Experiments demonstrated that a thiol-containing reducing agent, mercaptoethylamine (MEA or cysteamine), was the most effective, among other commonly known radical quenchers or singlet oxygen scavengers, in suppressing photobleaching of fluorescein while not reducing the fluorescence quantum yield. The protective effect against photobleaching of fluorescein in the bound state was also found in microscopy. The antibleaching effect of MEA led to a series of experiments using time-delayed fluorescence spectroscopy and nanosecond laser flash photolysis. The combined results showed that MEA directly quenched the triplet excited state and the semioxidized radical form of fluorescein without affecting the singlet excited state. The triplet lifetime of fluorescein was reduced upon adding MEA. It demonstrated that photobleaching of fluorescein in microscopy is related to the accumulation of the long-lived triplet excited state of fluorescein and that by quenching the triplet excited state and the semioxidized form of fluorescein to restore the dye molecules to the singlet ground state, photobleaching can be reduced.
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