Optical imaging of physiological events in real time can yield insights into biological function that would be difficult to obtain by other experimental means. However, the detection of all-or-none events, such as action potentials or vesicle fusion events, in noisy single-trial data often requires a careful balance of tradeoffs. The analysis of such experiments, as well as the design of optical reporters and instrumentation for them, is aided by an understanding of the principles of signal detection. This review illustrates these principles, using as an example action potential recording with optical voltage reporters.
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