Membrane proteins such as receptors and ion channels undergo active trafficking in neurons, which are highly polarised and morphologically complex. This directed trafficking is of fundamental importance to deliver, maintain or remove synaptic proteins.
Super-ecliptic pHluorin (SEP) is a pH-sensitive derivative of eGFP that has been extensively used for live cell imaging of plasma membrane proteins1-2. At low pH, protonation of SEP decreases photon absorption and eliminates fluorescence emission. As most intracellular trafficking events occur in compartments with low pH, where SEP fluorescence is eclipsed, the fluorescence signal from SEP-tagged proteins is predominantly from the plasma membrane where the SEP is exposed to a neutral pH extracellular environment. When illuminated at high intensity SEP, like every fluorescent dye, is irreversibly photodamaged (photobleached)3-5. Importantly, because low pH quenches photon absorption, only surface expressed SEP can be photobleached whereas intracellular SEP is unaffected by the high intensity illumination6-10.
FRAP (fluorescence recovery after photobleaching) of SEP-tagged proteins is a convenient and powerful technique for assessing protein dynamics at the plasma membrane. When fluorescently tagged proteins are photobleached in a region of interest (ROI) the recovery in fluorescence occurs due to the movement of unbleached SEP-tagged proteins into the bleached region. This can occur via lateral diffusion and/or from exocytosis of non-photobleached receptors supplied either by de novo synthesis or recycling (see Fig. 1). The fraction of immobile and mobile protein can be determined and the mobility and kinetics of the diffusible fraction can be interrogated under basal and stimulated conditions such as agonist application or neuronal activation stimuli such as NMDA or KCl application8,10.
We describe photobleaching techniques designed to selectively visualize the recovery of fluorescence attributable to exocytosis. Briefly, an ROI is photobleached once as with standard FRAP protocols, followed, after a brief recovery, by repetitive bleaching of the flanking regions. This 'FRAP-FLIP' protocol, developed in our lab, has been used to characterize AMPA receptor trafficking at dendritic spines10, and is applicable to a wide range of trafficking studies to evaluate the intracellular trafficking and exocytosis.
12 Related JoVE Articles!
Determination of Lipid Raft Partitioning of Fluorescently-tagged Probes in Living Cells by Fluorescence Correlation Spectroscopy (FCS)
Institutions: Hôpital de la Pitié-Salpêtrière, Université Paris-Sud, Université Paris-Sud.
In the past fifteen years the notion that cell membranes are not homogenous and rely on microdomains to exert their functions has become widely accepted. Lipid rafts are membrane microdomains enriched in cholesterol and sphingolipids. They play a role in cellular physiological processes such as signalling, and trafficking1,2
but are also thought to be key players in several diseases including viral or bacterial infections and neurodegenerative diseases3
Yet their existence is still a matter of controversy4,5
. Indeed, lipid raft size has been estimated to be around 20 nm6
, far under the resolution limit of conventional microscopy (around 200 nm), thus precluding their direct imaging. Up to now, the main techniques used to assess the partition of proteins of interest inside lipid rafts were Detergent Resistant Membranes (DRMs) isolation and co-patching with antibodies. Though widely used because of their rather easy implementation, these techniques were prone to artefacts and thus criticized7,8
. Technical improvements were therefore necessary to overcome these artefacts and to be able to probe lipid rafts partition in living cells.
Here we present a method for the sensitive analysis of lipid rafts partition of fluorescently-tagged proteins or lipids in the plasma membrane of living cells. This method, termed Fluorescence Correlation Spectroscopy (FCS), relies on the disparity in diffusion times of fluorescent probes located inside or outside of lipid rafts. In fact, as evidenced in both artificial membranes and cell cultures, probes would diffuse much faster outside than inside dense lipid rafts9,10
. To determine diffusion times, minute fluorescence fluctuations are measured as a function of time in a focal volume (approximately 1 femtoliter), located at the plasma membrane of cells with a confocal microscope (Fig. 1
). The auto-correlation curves can then be drawn from these fluctuations and fitted with appropriate mathematical diffusion models11
FCS can be used to determine the lipid raft partitioning of various probes, as long as they are fluorescently tagged. Fluorescent tagging can be achieved by expression of fluorescent fusion proteins or by binding of fluorescent ligands. Moreover, FCS can be used not only in artificial membranes and cell lines but also in primary cultures, as described recently12
. It can also be used to follow the dynamics of lipid raft partitioning after drug addition or membrane lipid composition change12
Cellular Biology, Issue 62, Lipid rafts, plasma membrane, diffusion times, confocal microscopy, fluorescence correlation spectroscopy (FCS)
Live-cell Imaging of Migrating Cells Expressing Fluorescently-tagged Proteins in a Three-dimensional Matrix
Institutions: University of California, Davis.
Traditionally, cell migration has been studied on two-dimensional, stiff plastic surfaces. However, during important biological processes such as wound healing, tissue regeneration, and cancer metastasis, cells must navigate through complex, three-dimensional extracellular tissue. To better understand the mechanisms behind these biological processes, it is important to examine the roles of the proteins responsible for driving cell migration. Here, we outline a protocol to study the mechanisms of cell migration using the epithelial cell line (MDCK), and a three-dimensional, fibrous, self-polymerizing matrix as a model system. This optically clear extracellular matrix is easily amenable to live-cell imaging studies and better mimics the physiological, soft tissue environment. This report demonstrates a technique for directly visualizing protein localization and dynamics, and deformation of the surrounding three-dimensional matrix.
Examination of protein localization and dynamics during cellular processes provides key insight into protein functions. Genetically encoded fluorescent tags provide a unique method for observing protein localization and dynamics. Using this technique, we can analyze the subcellular accumulation of key, force-generating cytoskeletal components in real-time as the cell maneuvers through the matrix. In addition, using multiple fluorescent tags with different wavelengths, we can examine the localization of multiple proteins simultaneously, thus allowing us to test, for example, whether different proteins have similar or divergent roles. Furthermore, the dynamics of fluorescently tagged proteins can be quantified using Fluorescent Recovery After Photobleaching (FRAP) analysis. This measurement assays the protein mobility and how stably bound the proteins are to the cytoskeletal network.
By combining live-cell imaging with the treatment of protein function inhibitors, we can examine in real-time the changes in the distribution of proteins and morphology of migrating cells. Furthermore, we also combine live-cell imaging with the use of fluorescent tracer particles embedded within the matrix to visualize the matrix deformation during cell migration. Thus, we can visualize how a migrating cell distributes force-generating proteins, and where the traction forces are exerted to the surrounding matrix. Through these techniques, we can gain valuable insight into the roles of specific proteins and their contributions to the mechanisms of cell migration.
Bioengineering, Issue 58, cell invasion, three-dimensional matrix, collagen gel, live-cell confocal imaging, FRAP, GFP, epithelial cyst
Measuring the Kinetics of mRNA Transcription in Single Living Cells
Institutions: Bar-Ilan University.
The transcriptional activity of RNA polymerase II (Pol II) is a dynamic process and therefore measuring the kinetics of the transcriptional process in vivo
is of importance. Pol II kinetics have been measured using biochemical or molecular methods.1-3
In recent years, with the development of new visualization methods, it has become possible to follow transcription as it occurs in real time in single living cells.4
Herein we describe how to perform analysis of Pol II elongation kinetics on a specific gene in living cells.5, 6
Using a cell line in which a specific gene locus (DNA), its mRNA product, and the final protein product can be fluorescently labeled and visualized in vivo
, it is possible to detect the actual transcription of mRNAs on the gene of interest.7, 8
The mRNA is fluorescently tagged using the MS2 system for tagging mRNAs in vivo
, where the 3'UTR of the mRNA transcripts contain 24 MS2 stem-loop repeats, which provide highly specific binding sites for the YFP-MS2 coat protein that labels the mRNA as it is transcribed.9
To monitor the kinetics of transcription we use the Fluorescence Recovery After Photobleaching (FRAP) method. By photobleaching the YFP-MS2-tagged nascent transcripts at the site of transcription and then following the recovery of this signal over time, we obtain the synthesis rate of the newly made mRNAs.5
In other words, YFP-MS2 fluorescence recovery reflects the generation of new MS2 stem-loops in the nascent transcripts and their binding by fluorescent free YFP-MS2 molecules entering from the surrounding nucleoplasm. The FRAP recovery curves are then analyzed using mathematical mechanistic models formalized by a series of differential equations, in order to retrieve the kinetic time parameters of transcription.
Cell Biology, Issue 54, mRNA transcription, nucleus, live-cell imaging, cellular dynamics, FRAP
Photobleaching Assays (FRAP & FLIP) to Measure Chromatin Protein Dynamics in Living Embryonic Stem Cells
Institutions: The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Fluorescence Recovery After Photobleaching (FRAP) and Fluorescence Loss In Photobleaching (FLIP) enable the study of protein dynamics in living cells with good spatial and temporal resolution. Here we describe how to perform FRAP and FLIP assays of chromatin proteins, including H1 and HP1, in mouse embryonic stem (ES) cells. In a FRAP experiment, cells are transfected, either transiently or stably, with a protein of interest fused with the green fluorescent protein (GFP) or derivatives thereof (YFP, CFP, Cherry, etc.). In the transfected, fluorescing cells, an intense focused laser beam bleaches a relatively small region of interest (ROI). The laser wavelength is selected according to the fluorescent protein used for fusion. The laser light irreversibly bleaches the fluorescent signal of molecules in the ROI and, immediately following bleaching, the recovery of the fluorescent signal in the bleached area - mediated by the replacement of the bleached molecules with the unbleached molecules - is monitored using time lapse imaging. The generated fluorescence recovery curves provide information on the protein's mobility. If the fluorescent molecules are immobile, no fluorescence recovery will be observed. In a complementary approach, Fluorescence Loss in Photobleaching (FLIP), the laser beam bleaches the same spot repeatedly and the signal intensity is measured elsewhere in the fluorescing cell. FLIP experiments therefore measure signal decay rather than fluorescence recovery and are useful to determine protein mobility as well as protein shuttling between cellular compartments. Transient binding is a common property of chromatin-associated proteins. Although the major fraction of each chromatin protein is bound to chromatin at any given moment at steady state, the binding is transient and most chromatin proteins have a high turnover on chromatin, with a residence time in the order of seconds. These properties are crucial for generating high plasticity in genome expression1
. Photobleaching experiments are therefore particularly useful to determine chromatin plasticity using GFP-fusion versions of chromatin structural proteins, especially in ES cells, where the dynamic exchange of chromatin proteins (including heterochromatin protein 1 (HP1), linker histone H1 and core histones) is higher than in differentiated cells2,3
Developmental Biology, Issue 52, Live imaging, FRAP, FLIP, embryonic stem (ES) cells, chromatin, chromatin plasticity, protein dynamics
Fluorescence Recovery After Photobleaching (FRAP) of Fluorescence Tagged Proteins in Dendritic Spines of Cultured Hippocampal Neurons
Institutions: National Institutes of Health, Bethesda.
FRAP has been used to quantify the mobility of GFP-tagged proteins. Using a strong excitation laser, the fluorescence of a GFP-tagged protein is bleached in the region of interest. The fluorescence of the region recovers when the unbleached GFP-tagged protein from outside of the region diffuses into the region of interest. The mobility of the protein is then analyzed by measuring the fluorescence recovery rate. This technique could be used to characterize protein mobility and turnover rate.
In this study, we express the (enhanced green
fluorescent protein) EGFP vector in cultured hippocampal neurons. Using the Zeiss 710 confocal microscope, we photobleach the fluorescence signal of the GFP protein in a single spine, and then take time lapse images to record the fluorescence recovery after photobleaching. Finally, we estimate the percentage of mobile and immobile fractions of the GFP in spines, by analyzing the imaging data using ImageJ and Graphpad softwares.
This FRAP protocol shows how to perform a basic FRAP experiment as well as how to analyze the data.
Neuroscience, Issue 50, Spine, FRAP, hippocampal neurons, live cell imaging, protein mobility
Visualization of Endoplasmic Reticulum Subdomains in Cultured Cells
Institutions: Fondazione Filarete, University of Milan, National Research Council (CNR), "Magna Graecia" University of Catanzaro.
The lipids and proteins in eukaryotic cells are continuously exchanged between cell compartments, although these retain their distinctive composition and functions despite the intense interorganelle molecular traffic. The techniques described in this paper are powerful means of studying protein and lipid mobility and trafficking in vivo
and in their physiological environment. Fluorescence recovery after photobleaching (FRAP) and fluorescence loss in photobleaching (FLIP) are widely used live-cell imaging techniques for studying intracellular trafficking through the exo-endocytic pathway, the continuity between organelles or subcompartments, the formation of protein complexes, and protein localization in lipid microdomains, all of which can be observed under physiological and pathological conditions. The limitations of these approaches are mainly due to the use of fluorescent fusion proteins, and their potential drawbacks include artifactual over-expression in cells and the possibility of differences in the folding and localization of tagged and native proteins. Finally, as the limit of resolution of optical microscopy (about 200 nm) does not allow investigation of the fine structure of the ER or the specific subcompartments that can originate in cells under stress (i.e.
hypoxia, drug administration, the over-expression of transmembrane ER resident proteins) or under pathological conditions, we combine live-cell imaging of cultured transfected cells with ultrastructural analyses based on transmission electron microscopy.
Microbiology, Issue 84, Endoplasmic reticulum (ER), fluorescent proteins (FPs), confocal microscopy, fluorescence recovery after photobleaching (FRAP), fluorescence loss in photobleaching (FLIP), ultrastructure, transmission electron microscopy (TEM)
Measuring Diffusion Coefficients via Two-photon Fluorescence Recovery After Photobleaching
Institutions: University of Rochester, University of Rochester.
Multi-fluorescence recovery after photobleaching is a microscopy technique used to measure the diffusion coefficient (or analogous transport parameters) of macromolecules, and can be applied to both in vitro
and in vivo
biological systems. Multi-fluorescence recovery after photobleaching is performed by photobleaching a region of interest within a fluorescent sample using an intense laser flash, then attenuating the beam and monitoring the fluorescence as still-fluorescent molecules from outside the region of interest diffuse in to replace the photobleached molecules. We will begin our demonstration by aligning the laser beam through the Pockels Cell (laser modulator) and along the optical path through the laser scan box and objective lens to the sample. For simplicity, we will use a sample of aqueous fluorescent dye. We will then determine the proper experimental parameters for our sample including, monitor and bleaching powers, bleach duration, bin widths (for photon counting), and fluorescence recovery time. Next, we will describe the procedure for taking recovery curves, a process that can be largely automated via LabVIEW (National Instruments, Austin, TX) for enhanced throughput. Finally, the diffusion coefficient is determined by fitting the recovery data to the appropriate mathematical model using a least-squares fitting algorithm, readily programmable using software such as MATLAB (The Mathworks, Natick, MA).
Cellular Biology, Issue 36, Diffusion, fluorescence recovery after photobleaching, MP-FRAP, FPR, multi-photon
From Fast Fluorescence Imaging to Molecular Diffusion Law on Live Cell Membranes in a Commercial Microscope
Institutions: Scuola Normale Superiore, Instituto Italiano di Tecnologia, University of California, Irvine.
It has become increasingly evident that the spatial distribution and the motion of membrane components like lipids and proteins are key factors in the regulation of many cellular functions. However, due to the fast dynamics and the tiny structures involved, a very high spatio-temporal resolution is required to catch the real behavior of molecules. Here we present the experimental protocol for studying the dynamics of fluorescently-labeled plasma-membrane proteins and lipids in live cells with high spatiotemporal resolution. Notably, this approach doesn’t need to track each molecule, but it calculates population behavior using all molecules in a given region of the membrane. The starting point is a fast imaging of a given region on the membrane. Afterwards, a complete spatio-temporal autocorrelation function is calculated correlating acquired images at increasing time delays, for example each 2, 3, n repetitions. It is possible to demonstrate that the width of the peak of the spatial autocorrelation function increases at increasing time delay as a function of particle movement due to diffusion. Therefore, fitting of the series of autocorrelation functions enables to extract the actual protein mean square displacement from imaging (iMSD), here presented in the form of apparent diffusivity vs average displacement. This yields a quantitative view of the average dynamics of single molecules with nanometer accuracy. By using a GFP-tagged variant of the Transferrin Receptor (TfR) and an ATTO488 labeled 1-palmitoyl-2-hydroxy-sn
-glycero-3-phosphoethanolamine (PPE) it is possible to observe the spatiotemporal regulation of protein and lipid diffusion on µm-sized membrane regions in the micro-to-milli-second time range.
Bioengineering, Issue 92, fluorescence, protein dynamics, lipid dynamics, membrane heterogeneity, transient confinement, single molecule, GFP
Crystallization of Membrane Proteins in Lipidic Mesophases
Institutions: The Scripps Research Institute.
Membrane proteins perform critical functions in living cells related to signal transduction, transport and energy transformations, and, as such, are implicated in a multitude of malfunctions and diseases. However, a structural and functional understanding of membrane proteins is strongly lagging behind that of their soluble partners, mainly, due to difficulties associated with their solubilization and generation of diffraction quality crystals. Crystallization in lipidic mesophases (also known as in meso
or LCP crystallization) is a promising technique which was successfully applied to obtain high resolution structures of microbial rhodopsins, photosynthetic proteins, outer membrane beta barrels and G protein-coupled receptors. In meso crystallization takes advantage of a native-like membrane environment and typically produces crystals with lower solvent content and better ordering as compared to traditional crystallization from detergent solutions. The method is not difficult, but requires an understanding of lipid phase behavior and practice in handling viscous mesophase materials. Here we demonstrate a simple and efficient way of making LCP and reconstituting a membrane protein in the lipid bilayer of LCP using a syringe mixer, followed by dispensing nanoliter portions of LCP into an assay or crystallization plate, conducting pre-crystallization assays and harvesting crystals from the LCP matrix. These protocols provide a basic guide for approaching in meso
crystallization trials; however, as with any crystallization experiment, extensive screening and optimization are required, and a successful outcome is not necessarily guaranteed.
Structural Biology, Issue 49, membrane protein, lipidic cubic phase, crystallization, Fluorescence recovery after photobleaching (FRAP) , G protein-coupled receptors
Visualizing Protein-DNA Interactions in Live Bacterial Cells Using Photoactivated Single-molecule Tracking
Institutions: University of Oxford, University of Oxford.
Protein-DNA interactions are at the heart of many fundamental cellular processes. For example, DNA replication, transcription, repair, and chromosome organization are governed by DNA-binding proteins that recognize specific DNA structures or sequences. In vitro
experiments have helped to generate detailed models for the function of many types of DNA-binding proteins, yet, the exact mechanisms of these processes and their organization in the complex environment of the living cell remain far less understood. We recently introduced a method for quantifying DNA-repair activities in live Escherichia coli
cells using Photoactivated Localization Microscopy (PALM) combined with single-molecule tracking. Our general approach identifies individual DNA-binding events by the change in the mobility of a single protein upon association with the chromosome. The fraction of bound molecules provides a direct quantitative measure for the protein activity and abundance of substrates or binding sites at the single-cell level. Here, we describe the concept of the method and demonstrate sample preparation, data acquisition, and data analysis procedures.
Immunology, Issue 85, Super-resolution microscopy, single-particle tracking, Live-cell imaging, DNA-binding proteins, DNA repair, molecular diffusion
Visualization of Cortex Organization and Dynamics in Microorganisms, using Total Internal Reflection Fluorescence Microscopy
Institutions: Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry, Helmholtz Zentrum München.
TIRF microscopy has emerged as a powerful imaging technology to study spatio-temporal dynamics of fluorescent molecules in vitro and in living cells1
. The optical phenomenon of total internal reflection occurs when light passes from a medium with high refractive index into a medium with low refractive index at an angle larger than a characteristic critical angle (i.e. closer to being parallel with the boundary). Although all light is reflected back under such conditions, an evanescent wave is created that propagates across and along the boundary, which decays exponentially with distance, and only penetrates sample areas that are 100-200 nm near the interface2
. In addition to providing superior axial resolution, the reduced excitation of out of focus fluorophores creates a very high signal to noise ratios and minimizes damaging effects of photobleaching2,3
. Being a widefield technique, TIRF also allows faster image acquisition than most scanning based confocal setups.
At first glance, the low penetration depth of TIRF seems to be incompatible with imaging of bacterial and fungal cells, which are often surrounded by thick cell walls. On the contrary, we have found that the cell walls of yeast and bacterial cells actually improve the usability of TIRF and increase the range of observable structures4-8
. Many cellular processes can therefore be directly accessed by TIRF in small, single-cell microorganisms, which often offer powerful genetic manipulation techniques. This allows us to perform in vivo
biochemistry experiments, where kinetics of protein interactions and activities can be directly assessed in living cells.
We describe here the individual steps required to obtain high quality TIRF images for Saccharomyces cerevisiae
or Bacillus subtilis
cells. We point out various problems that can affect TIRF visualization of fluorescent probes in cells and illustrate the procedure with several application examples. Finally, we demonstrate how TIRF images can be further improved using established image restoration techniques.
Bioengineering, Issue 63, TIRF, imaging, yeast, bacteria, microscopy, cell cortex
Visualizing Single Molecular Complexes In Vivo Using Advanced Fluorescence Microscopy
Institutions: University of Oxford, University of Oxford.
Full insight into the mechanisms of living cells can be achieved only by investigating the key processes that elicit and direct events at a cellular level. To date the shear complexity of biological systems has caused precise single-molecule experimentation to be far too demanding, instead focusing on studies of single systems using relatively crude bulk ensemble-average measurements. However, many important processes occur in the living cell at the level of just one or a few molecules; ensemble measurements generally mask the stochastic and heterogeneous nature of these events. Here, using advanced optical microscopy and analytical image analysis tools we demonstrate how to monitor proteins within a single living bacterial cell to a precision of single molecules and how we can observe dynamics within molecular complexes in functioning biological machines. The techniques are directly relevant physiologically. They are minimally-perturbative and non-invasive to the biological sample under study and are fully attuned for investigations in living material, features not readily available to other single-molecule approaches of biophysics. In addition, the biological specimens studied all produce fluorescently-tagged protein at levels which are almost identical to the unmodified cell strains ("genomic encoding"), as opposed to the more common but less ideal approach for generating significantly more protein than would occur naturally ('plasmid expression'). Thus, the actual biological samples which will be investigated are significantly closer to the natural organisms, and therefore the observations more relevant to real physiological processes.
Bioengineering, Issue 31, Single-molecule, fluorescence, microscopy, TIRF, FRAP, in vivo, membrane protein, GFP, diffusion, bacteria