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J Nucleic Acids. 2011;2011:741723. doi: 10.4061/2011/741723. Epub 2011 Aug 22.

Molecular beacons: powerful tools for imaging RNA in living cells.

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Instituto de Fisiología Celular, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 04510 Mexico, DF, Mexico.


Recent advances in RNA functional studies highlights the pivotal role of these molecules in cell physiology. Diverse methods have been implemented to measure the expression levels of various RNA species, using either purified RNA or fixed cells. Despite the fact that fixed cells offer the possibility to observe the spatial distribution of RNA, assays with capability to real-time monitoring RNA transport into living cells are needed to further understand the role of RNA dynamics in cellular functions. Molecular beacons (MBs) are stem-loop hairpin-structured oligonucleotides equipped with a fluorescence quencher at one end and a fluorescent dye (also called reporter or fluorophore) at the opposite end. This structure permits that MB in the absence of their target complementary sequence do not fluoresce. Upon binding to targets, MBs emit fluorescence, due to the spatial separation of the quencher and the reporter. Molecular beacons are promising probes for the development of RNA imaging techniques; nevertheless much work remains to be done in order to obtain a robust technology for imaging various RNA molecules together in real time and in living cells. The present work concentrates on the different requirements needed to use successfully MB for cellular studies, summarizing recent advances in this area.

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