We show that fluorescence lifetime is a powerful contrast mechanism that can enhance the whole-body imaging of fluorescent proteins (FPs), in the presence of background tissue autofluorescence (AF). The nonexponential AF decay is characterized from time-domain (TD) measurements on multiple nude mice and separated from the FP fluorescence using a linear fit to a priori basis functions. We illustrate this approach using an orthotopic mouse tumor model of breast adenocarcinoma. We also report that four commonly used FPs show distinct lifetimes, indicating their suitability for in vivo lifetime multiplexing. These results suggest the potential for exploiting fluorescence lifetime for imaging FPs for a variety of whole-body small-animal imaging applications.
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