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Biophys J. 2009 Aug 19;97(4):1206-14. doi: 10.1016/j.bpj.2009.05.044.

Single-molecule microscopy reveals membrane microdomain organization of cells in a living vertebrate.

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Molecular Cell Biology, Institute of Biology, Leiden University, Leiden, The Netherlands.


It has been possible for several years to study the dynamics of fluorescently labeled proteins by single-molecule microscopy, but until now this technology has been applied only to individual cells in culture. In this study, it was extended to stem cells and living vertebrate organisms. As a molecule of interest we used yellow fluorescent protein fused to the human H-Ras membrane anchor, which has been shown to serve as a model for proteins anchored in the plasma membrane. We used a wide-field fluorescence microscopy setup to visualize individual molecules in a zebrafish cell line (ZF4) and in primary embryonic stem cells. A total-internal-reflection microscopy setup was used for imaging in living organisms, in particular in epidermal cells in the skin of 2-day-old zebrafish embryos. Our results demonstrate the occurrence of membrane microdomains in which the diffusion of membrane proteins in a living organism is confined. This membrane organization differed significantly from that observed in cultured cells, illustrating the relevance of performing single-molecule microscopy in living organisms.

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