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Bioessays. 2012 May;34(5):386-95. doi: 10.1002/bies.201100080. Epub 2012 Mar 13.

Super-resolution imaging prompts re-thinking of cell biology mechanisms: selected cases using stimulated emission depletion microscopy.

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European Neuroscience Institute, DFG Center for Molecular Physiology of the Brain/Excellence Cluster, Göttingen, Germany.


The use of super-resolution imaging techniques in cell biology has yielded a wealth of information regarding cellular elements and processes that were invisible to conventional imaging. Focusing on images obtained by stimulated emission depletion (STED) microscopy, we discuss how the new high-resolution data influence the ways in which we use and interpret images in cell biology. Super-resolution images have lent support to some of our current hypotheses. But, more significantly, they have revealed unexpectedly complex processes that cannot be accounted for by the simpler models based on diffraction-limited imaging. The super-resolution imaging data challenge cell biologists to change their theoretical framework, by including, for instance, interpretations that describe multiple functions, functional errors or lack of function for cellular elements. In this context, we argue that descriptive research using super-resolution microscopy is now as necessary as hypothesis-driven research.

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