• Fluorescence Lifetime Imaging Microscopy (FLIM);
  • time-correlated single photon counting (TCSPC);
  • fluorescence lifetime (FLT);
  • fluorescence intensity (FI);
  • pile-up;
  • inter-pulse pile-up;
  • dead time;
  • F -value


Recent developments in the field of fluorescence lifetime imaging microscopy (FLIM) techniques allow the use of high repetition rate light sources in live cell experiments. For light sources with a repetition rate of 20–100 MHz, the time-correlated single photon counting (TCSPC) FLIM systems suffer serious dead time related distortions, known as “inter-pulse pile-up”. The objective of this paper is to present a new method to quantify the level of signal distortion in TCSPC FLIM experiments, in order to determine the most efficient laser repetition rate for different FLT ranges. Optimization of the F -value, which is the relation between the relative standard deviation (RSD) in the measured FLT to the RSD in the measured fluorescence intensity (FI), allows quantification of the level of FI signal distortion, as well as determination of the correct FLT of the measurement. It is shown that by using a very high repetition rate (80 MHz) for samples characterized by high real FLT's (4–5 ns), virtual short FLT components are added to the FLT histogram while a F -value that is higher than 1 is obtained. For samples characterized with short real FLT's, virtual long FLT components are added to the FLT histogram with the lower repetition rate (20–50 MHz), while by using a higher repetition rate (80 MHz) the “inter-pulse pile-up” is eliminated as the F -value is close to 1. (© 2014 WILEY-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim)