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Biophys J. 2009 Jan;96(2):L16-8. doi: 10.1016/j.bpj.2008.11.001.

Theoretical limits on errors and acquisition rates in localizing switchable fluorophores.


A variety of recent imaging techniques are able to beat the diffraction limit in fluorescence microcopy by activating and localizing subsets of the fluorescent molecules in the specimen, and repeating this process until all of the molecules have been imaged. In these techniques there is a tradeoff between speed (activating more molecules per imaging cycle) and error rates (activating more molecules risks producing overlapping images that hide information on molecular positions), and so intelligent image processing approaches are needed to identify and reject overlapping images. We introduce here a formalism for defining error rates, derive a general relationship between error rates, image acquisition rates, and the performance characteristics of the image processing algorithms, and show that there is a minimum acquisition time irrespective of algorithm performance. We also consider algorithms that can infer molecular positions from images of overlapping blurs, and derive the dependence of the minimum acquisition time on algorithm performance.

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