A real-time view of life within 100 nm of the plasma membrane

Nat Rev Mol Cell Biol. 2001 Apr;2(4):268-75. doi: 10.1038/35067069.


The plasma membrane is a two-dimensional compartment that relays most biological signals sent or received by a cell. Signalling involves membrane receptors and their associated enzyme cascades as well as organelles such as exocytic and endocytic vesicles. Advances in light microscope design, new organelle-specific vital stains and fluorescent proteins have renewed the interest in evanescent field fluorescence microscopy, a method uniquely suited to image the plasma membrane with its associated organelles and macromolecules in living cells. The method shows even the smallest vesicles made by cells, and can image the dynamics of single protein molecules.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Membrane / chemistry*
  • Cell Membrane / metabolism*
  • Electromagnetic Fields
  • Exocytosis
  • Glass
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence / instrumentation
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence / methods
  • Refractometry
  • Secretory Vesicles / chemistry
  • Secretory Vesicles / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction
  • Synaptic Vesicles / chemistry
  • Synaptic Vesicles / metabolism
  • Water


  • Water