As the scientific community seeks efficient optical neural interfaces with sub-cortical structures of the mouse brain, a wide set of technologies and methods is being developed to monitor cellular events through fluorescence signals generated by genetically encoded molecules. Among these technologies, tapered optical fibers (TFs) take advantage of the modal properties of narrowing waveguides to enable both depth-resolved and wide-volume light collection from scattering tissue, with minimized invasiveness with respect to standard flat fiber stubs (FFs). However, light guided in patch cords as well as in FFs and TFs can result in autofluorescence (AF) signal, which can act as a source of time-variable noise and limit their application to probe fluorescence lifetime in vivo. In this work, we compare the AF signal of FFs and TFs, highlighting the influence of the cladding composition on AF generation. We show that the autofluorescence signal generated in TFs has a peculiar coupling pattern with guided modes, and that far-field detection can be exploited to separate functional fluorescence from AF. On these bases, we provide evidence that TFs can be employed to implement depth-resolved fluorescence lifetime photometry, potentially enabling the extraction of a new set of information from deep brain regions, as time-correlating single photon counting starts to be applied in freely-moving animals to monitor the intracellular biochemical state of neurons.
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