Automatic detection of single fluorophores in live cells

Biophys J. 2007 Mar 15;92(6):2199-211. doi: 10.1529/biophysj.106.081117. Epub 2007 Jan 5.


Recent developments in light microscopy enable individual fluorophores to be observed in aqueous conditions. Biological molecules, labeled with a single fluorophore, can be localized as isolated spots of light when viewed by optical microscopy. Total internal reflection fluorescence microscopy greatly reduces background fluorescence and allows single fluorophores to be observed inside living cells. This advance in live-cell imaging means that the spatial and temporal dynamics of individual molecules can be measured directly. Because of the stochastic nature of single molecule behavior a statistically meaningful number of individual molecules must be detected and their separate trajectories in space and time stored and analyzed. Here, we describe digital image processing methods that we have devised for automatic detection and tracking of hundreds of molecules, observed simultaneously, in vitro and within living cells. Using this technique we have measured the diffusive behavior of pleckstrin homology domains bound to phosphoinositide phospholipids at the plasma membrane of live cultured mammalian cells. We found that mobility of these membrane-bound protein domains is dominated by mobility of the lipid molecule to which they are attached and is highly temperature dependent. Movement of PH domains isolated from the tail region of myosin-10 is consistent with a simple random walk, whereas, diffusion of intact PLC-delta1 shows behavior inconsistent with a simple random walk. Movement is rapid over short timescales but much slower at longer timescales. This anomalous behavior can be explained by movement being restricted to membrane regions of 0.7 microm diameter.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Artificial Intelligence*
  • Blood Proteins / metabolism*
  • Cell Membrane / metabolism*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Endothelial Cells / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Image Interpretation, Computer-Assisted / methods*
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence / methods*
  • Pattern Recognition, Automated
  • Phosphoproteins / metabolism*
  • Spectrometry, Fluorescence / methods*


  • Blood Proteins
  • Phosphoproteins
  • platelet protein P47