Time-correlated single photon counting (TCSPC) enables acquisition of fluorescence lifetime decays with high temporal resolution within the fluorescence decay. However, many thousands of photons per pixel are required for accurate lifetime decay curve representation, instrument response deconvolution, and lifetime estimation, particularly for two-component lifetimes. TCSPC imaging speed is inherently limited due to the single photon per laser pulse nature and low fluorescence event efficiencies (<10%) required to reduce bias towards short lifetimes. Here, simulated fluorescence lifetime decays are analyzed by SPCImage and SLIM Curve software to determine the limiting lifetime parameters and photon requirements of fluorescence lifetime decays that can be accurately fit. Data analysis techniques to improve fitting accuracy for low photon count data were evaluated. Temporal binning of the decays from 256 time bins to 42 time bins significantly (p<0.0001) improved fit accuracy in SPCImage and enabled accurate fits with low photon counts (as low as 700 photons/decay), a 6-fold reduction in required photons and therefore improvement in imaging speed. Additionally, reducing the number of free parameters in the fitting algorithm by fixing the lifetimes to known values significantly reduced the lifetime component error from 27.3% to 3.2% in SPCImage (p<0.0001) and from 50.6% to 4.2% in SLIM Curve (p<0.0001). Analysis of nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide–lactate dehydrogenase (NADH-LDH) solutions confirmed temporal binning of TCSPC data and a reduced number of free parameters improves exponential decay fit accuracy in SPCImage. Altogether, temporal binning (in SPCImage) and reduced free parameters are data analysis techniques that enable accurate lifetime estimation from low photon count data and enable TCSPC imaging speeds up to 6x and 300x faster, respectively, than traditional TCSPC analysis.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Atomic and Molecular Physics, and Optics