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Nucleic Acids Res. 2001 Mar 1;29(5):1013-6.

Fluorescent RNA cytochemistry: tracking gene transcripts in living cells.

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  • 1Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Pharmacology, University of Massachusetts Medical School, 377 Plantation Street, Worcester, MA 01605, USA.


The advent of jellyfish green fluorescent protein and its spectral variants, together with promising new fluorescent proteins from other classes of the Cnidarian phylum (coral and anemones), has greatly enhanced and promises to further boost the detection and localization of proteins in cell biology. It has been less widely appreciated that highly sensitive methods have also recently been developed for detecting the movement and localization in living cells of the very molecules that precede proteins in the gene expression pathway, i.e. RNAs. These approaches include the microinjection of fluorescent RNAs into living cells, the in vivo hybridization of fluorescent oligonucleotides to endogenous RNAs and the expression in cells of fluorescent RNA-binding proteins. This new field of 'fluorescent RNA cytochemistry' is summarized in this article, with emphasis on the biological insights it has already provided. These new techniques are likely to soon collaborate with other emerging approaches to advance the investigation of RNA birth, RNA-protein assembly and ribonucleoprotein particle transport in systems such as oocytes, embryos, neurons and other somatic cells, and may even permit the observation of viral replication and transcription pathways as they proceed in living cells, ushering in a new era of nucleic acids research in vivo.

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