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Biophys J. 1994 May;66(5):1301-18.

Automated detection and tracking of individual and clustered cell surface low density lipoprotein receptor molecules.

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  • 1School of Applied and Engineering Physics, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York 14853.


We have developed a technique to detect, recognize, and track each individual low density lipoprotein receptor (LDL-R) molecule and small receptor clusters on the surface of human skin fibroblasts. Molecular recognition and high precision (30 nm) simultaneous automatic tracking of all of the individual receptors in the cell surface population utilize quantitative time-lapse low light level digital video fluorescence microscopy analyzed by purpose-designed algorithms executed on an image processing work station. The LDL-Rs are labeled with the biologically active, fluorescent LDL derivative dil-LDL. Individual LDL-Rs and unresolved small clusters are identified by measuring the fluorescence power radiated by the sub-resolution fluorescent spots in the image; identification of single particles is ascertained by four independent techniques. An automated tracking routine was developed to track simultaneously, and without user intervention, a multitude of fluorescent particles through a sequence of hundreds of time-lapse image frames. The limitations on tracking precision were found to depend on the signal-to-noise ratio of the tracked particle image and mechanical drift of the microscope system. We describe the methods involved in (i) time-lapse acquisition of the low-light level images, (ii) simultaneous automated tracking of the fluorescent diffraction limited punctate images, (iii) localizing particles with high precision and limitations, and (iv) detecting and identifying single and clustered LDL-Rs. These methods are generally applicable and provide a powerful tool to visualize and measure dynamics and interactions of individual integral membrane proteins on living cell surfaces.

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