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Essays Biochem. 2008;45:121-33. doi: 10.1042/BSE0450121.

Single live-cell imaging for systems biology.

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Centre for Cell Imaging, School of Biological Sciences, University of Liverpool, Liverpool L69 7ZB, U.K.


Understanding how mammalian cells function requires a dynamic perspective. However, owing to the complexity of signalling networks, these non-linear systems can easily elude human intuition. The central aim of systems biology is to improve our understanding of the temporal complexity of cell signalling pathways, using a combination of experimental and computational approaches. Live-cell imaging and computational modelling are compatible techniques which allow quantitative analysis of cell signalling pathway dynamics. Non-invasive imaging techniques, based on the use of various luciferases and fluorescent proteins, trace cellular events such as gene expression, protein-protein interactions and protein localization in cells. By employing a number of markers in a single assay, multiple parameters can be measured simultaneously in the same cell. Following acquisition using specialized microscopy, analysis of multi-parameter time-lapse images facilitates the identification of important qualitative and quantitative relationships-linking intracellular signalling, gene expression and cell fate.

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