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Biophys J. 2008 Jul;95(1):378-89. doi: 10.1529/biophysj.107.125229. Epub 2008 Mar 21.

Quantitative lifetime unmixing of multiexponentially decaying fluorophores using single-frequency fluorescence lifetime imaging microscopy.

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  • 1Section Molecular Cytology and Centre for Advanced Microscopy, Swammerdam Institute for Life Sciences, University of Amsterdam, Kruislaan 316, NL-1098 SM, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.


Fluorescence lifetime imaging microscopy (FLIM) is a quantitative microscopy technique for imaging nanosecond decay times of fluorophores. In the case of frequency-domain FLIM, several methods have been described to resolve the relative abundance of two fluorescent species with different fluorescence decay times. Thus far, single-frequency FLIM methods generally have been limited to quantifying two species with monoexponential decay. However, multiexponential decays are the norm rather than the exception, especially for fluorescent proteins and biological samples. Here, we describe a novel method for determining the fractional contribution in each pixel of an image of a sample containing two (multiexponentially) decaying species using single-frequency FLIM. We demonstrate that this technique allows the unmixing of binary mixtures of two spectrally identical cyan or green fluorescent proteins, each with multiexponential decay. Furthermore, because of their spectral identity, quantitative images of the relative molecular abundance of these fluorescent proteins can be generated that are independent of the microscope light path. The method is rigorously tested using samples of known composition and applied to live cell microscopy using cells expressing multiple (multiexponentially decaying) fluorescent proteins.

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