Single-Molecule Tracking Microscopy - A Tool For Determining The Diffusive States Of Cytosolic Molecules

This article has been accepted and is currently in production


Single-molecule localization microscopy probes the position and motions of individual molecules in living cells with tens of nanometer spatial and millisecond temporal resolution. These capabilities make single-molecule localization microscopy ideally suited to study molecular level biological functions in physiologically relevant environments. Here, we demonstrate an integrated protocol for both acquisition and processing/analysis of single-molecule tracking data to extract the different diffusive states a protein of interest may exhibit. This information can be used to quantify molecular complex formation in living cells. We provide a detailed description of a camera-based 3D single-molecule localization experiment, as well as the subsequent data processing steps that yield the trajectories of individual molecules. These trajectories are then analyzed using a numerical analysis framework to extract the prevalent diffusive states of the fluorescently labeled molecules and the relative abundance of these states. The analysis framework is based on stochastic simulations of intracellular Brownian diffusion trajectories that are spatially confined by an arbitrary cell geometry. Based on the simulated trajectories, raw single-molecule images are generated and analyzed in the same way as experimental images. In this way, experimental precision and accuracy limitations, which are difficult to calibrate experimentally, are explicitly incorporated into the analysis workflow. The diffusion coefficient and relative population fractions of the prevalent diffusive states are determined by fitting the distributions of experimental values using linear combinations of simulated distributions. We demonstrate the utility of our protocol by resolving the diffusive states of a protein that exhibits different diffusive states upon forming homo- and hetero-oligomeric complexes in the cytosol of a bacterial pathogen.