Fourier transform infrared (FT-IR) difference absorption spectroscopy is a common method for studying the structural and dynamical aspects behind protein function. In particular, the 2800–1800 cm−1 spectral range has been used to obtain information about internal (deuterated) water molecules, as well as site-specific details about cysteine residues and chemically modified and artificial amino acids. Here, we report on the presence of ghost bands in cryogenic light-induced FT-IR difference spectra of the protein bacteriorhodopsin. The presence of these ghost bands can be particularly problematic in the 2800–1900 cm−1 region, showing intensities similar to O–D vibrations from water molecules. We demonstrate that they arise from second harmonics from genuine chromophore bands located in the 1400–850 cm−1 region, generated by double-modulation artifacts caused from reflections of the IR beam at the sample and at the cryostat windows back to the interferometer (inter-reflections). The second-harmonic ghost bands can be physically removed by placing an optical filter of suitable cutoff in the beam path, but at the cost of losing part of the multiplexing advantage of FT-IR spectroscopy. We explored alternatives to the use of optical filters. Tilting the cryostat windows was effective in reducing the intensity of the second harmonic artifacts but tilting the sample windows was not, presumably by their close proximity to the focal point of the IR beam. We also introduce a simple numerical post-processing approach that can partially, but not fully, correct for second-harmonic ghost bands in FT-IR difference spectra.
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