Fluorescence lifetime imaging (FLIM) when paired with Forster resonance energy transfer (FLIM-FRET) enables the monitoring of nanoscale interactions in living biological samples. FLIM-FRET model-based estimation methods allow the quantitative retrieval of parameters such as the quenched (interacting) and unquenched (non-interacting) fractional populations of the donor fluorophore and/or the distance of the interactions. The quantitative accuracy of such model-based approaches is dependent on multiple factors such as signal-to-noise ratio and number of temporal points acquired when sampling the fluorescence decays. For high-throughput or in vivo applications of FLIM-FRET, it is desirable to acquire a limited number of temporal points for fast acquisition times. Yet, it is critical to acquire temporal data sets with sufficient information content to allow for accurate FLIM-FRET parameter estimation. Herein, an optimal experimental design approach based upon sensitivity analysis is presented in order to identify the time points that provide the best quantitative estimates of the parameters for a determined number of temporal sampling points. More specifically, the D-optimality criterion is employed to identify, within a sparse temporal data set, the set of time points leading to optimal estimations of the quenched fractional population of the donor fluorophore. Overall, a reduced set of 10 time points (compared to a typical complete set of 90 time points) was identified to have minimal impact on parameter estimation accuracy (~5%), with in silico and in vivo experiment validations. This reduction of the number of needed time points by almost an order of magnitude allows the use of FLIM-FRET for certain high-throughput applications which would be infeasible if the entire number of time sampling points were used.
PLoS ONE 10(12): e0144421 (2015)