Three-Dimensional Imaging of Bacterial Cells for Accurate Cellular Representations and Precise Protein Localization

This article has been accepted and is currently in production


The shape of a bacterium is important for its physiology. Many aspects of cell physiology such as cell motility, predation, and biofilm production can be affected by cell shape. Bacterial cells are three-dimensional (3D) objects, although they are rarely treated as such. Most microscopy techniques result in two-dimensional (2D) images leading to the loss of data pertaining to the actual 3D cell shape and localization of proteins. Certain shape parameters, such as Gaussian curvature (the product of the two principal curvatures), can only be measured in 3D because 2D images do not measure both principal curvatures. Additionally, not all cells lie flat when mounting and 2D imaging of curved cells may not accurately represent the shapes of these cells. Accurately measuring protein localization in 3D can help determine the spatial regulation and function of proteins. A forward convolution technique has been developed that uses the blurring function of the microscope to reconstruct 3D cell shapes and to accurately localize proteins. Here, a protocol for preparing and mounting samples for live cell imaging of bacteria in 3D both to reconstruct an accurate cell shape and to localize proteins is described. The method is based on simple sample preparation, fluorescent image acquisition, and MATLAB-based image processing. Many high-quality fluorescent microscopes can be simply modified to take these measurements. These cell reconstructions are computationally intensive and access to high-throughput computational resources is recommended, although not necessary. This method has been successfully applied to multiple bacterial species and mutants, fluorescent imaging modalities, and microscope manufacturers.