Fluorescence lifetime imaging of receptor tyrosine kinase activity in cells

Curr Biol. 1999 Oct 7;9(19):1127-30. doi: 10.1016/s0960-9822(99)80484-9.


We report a highly specific fluorescence lifetime imaging microscopy (FLIM) method for monitoring epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) phosphorylation in cells based on fluorescence resonance energy transfer (FRET). EGFR phosphorylation was monitored using a green fluorescent protein (GFP)-tagged EGFR and Cy3-conjugated anti-phosphotyrosine antibodies. In this FRET-based imaging method, the information about phosphorylation is contained only in the (donor) GFP fluorescence lifetime and is independent of the antibody-derived (acceptor) fluorescence signal. A pixel-by-pixel reference lifetime of the donor GFP in the absence of FRET was acquired from the same cell after photobleaching of the acceptor. We show that this calibration, by acceptor photobleaching, works for the GFP-Cy3 donor-acceptor pair and allows the full quantitation of FRET efficiencies, and therefore the degree of exposed phosphotyrosines, at each pixel. The hallmark of EGFR stimulation is receptor dimerisation [1] [2] [3] [4] and concomitant activation of its intracellular tyrosine kinase domain [5] [6] [7]. Trans-autophosphorylation of the receptor [8] [9] on specific tyrosine residues couples the activated dimer to the intracellular signal transduction machinery as these phosphorylated residues serve as docking sites for adaptor and effector molecules containing Src homology 2 (SH2; reviewed in [10]) and phosphotyrosine-binding (PTB) [11] domains. The time-course and extent of EGFR phosphorylation are therefore important determinants of the underlying pathway and resulting cellular response. Our results strongly suggest that secondary proteins are recruited by activated receptors in endosomes, indicating that these are active compartments in signal transduction.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • COS Cells
  • Cell Membrane / metabolism
  • ErbB Receptors / metabolism
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins
  • Luminescent Proteins / metabolism
  • Microscopy, Confocal / methods
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence / methods*
  • Phosphorylation
  • Phosphotyrosine / metabolism
  • Precipitin Tests
  • Receptor Protein-Tyrosine Kinases / metabolism*
  • Time Factors


  • Luminescent Proteins
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins
  • Phosphotyrosine
  • ErbB Receptors
  • Receptor Protein-Tyrosine Kinases