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J Struct Biol. 2002 Oct-Dec;140(1-3):92-9.

Quantitation of GFP-fusion proteins in single living cells.

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National Cancer Institute, NIH, 41 Library Drive, Bldg. 41, Bethesda, MD 20892-5055, USA.


The green fluorescent protein (GFP) has revolutionized cell biology. The ability to observe genetically encoded fluorescently tagged fusion proteins in intact cells has made virtually any biological process amenable to investigation in living cells. However, most in vivo imaging studies are qualitative and little information about the number of fluorescently labeled molecules observed in a cell or a cellular structure is available. This deficiency severely limits the interpretation of imaging experiments and it impedes the application of in vivo imaging methods for biophysical purposes. Here we describe a simple method for the quantitative determination of the number of GFP-tagged molecules in cellular structures in single living cells. The method is based on the use of rotavirus-like particles containing a known number of GFP molecules as an internal calibration standard during in vivo imaging. We have applied this method to estimate in single living cells the number of fluorescent transcription factor molecules on RNA polymerase I and polymerase II genes. In addition, we have estimated the number of molecules for several proteins in subnuclear compartments and in exocytic vesicles. VLP-GFP calibration is a simple, convenient, rapid, and noninvasive method for routine quantification of GFP-labeled molecules in single, living cells.

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