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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2010 Oct 19;107(42):17864-71. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1012868107. Epub 2010 Oct 4.

Three-dimensional tracking of single mRNA particles in Saccharomyces cerevisiae using a double-helix point spread function.

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Department of Chemistry, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305-5080, USA.


Optical imaging of single biomolecules and complexes in living cells provides a useful window into cellular processes. However, the three-dimensional dynamics of most important biomolecules in living cells remains essentially uncharacterized. The precise subcellular localization of mRNA-protein complexes plays a critical role in the spatial and temporal control of gene expression, and a full understanding of the control of gene expression requires precise characterization of mRNA transport dynamics beyond the optical diffraction limit. In this paper, we describe three-dimensional tracking of single mRNA particles with 25-nm precision in the x and y dimensions and 50-nm precision in the z dimension in live budding yeast cells using a microscope with a double-helix point spread function. Two statistical methods to detect intermittently confined and directed transport were used to quantify the three-dimensional trajectories of mRNA for the first time, using ARG3 mRNA as a model. Measurements and analysis show that the dynamics of ARG3 mRNA molecules are mostly diffusive, although periods of non-Brownian confinement and directed transport are observed. The quantitative methods detailed in this paper can be broadly applied to the study of mRNA localization and the dynamics of diverse other biomolecules in a wide variety of cell types.

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