Tracing the lineage or neighbor relationships of cells in a migratory population or deep within an embryo is difficult with current methods. The recent explosion of photoactivatable fluorescent proteins (PAFPs) offers a unique cell labeling tool kit, yet their in vivo performance in intact embryos and applicability have not been thoroughly explored. We report a comparison study of PAGFP, PSCFP2, KikGR, and Kaede analyzed in the avian embryo using confocal and 2-photon microscopy. PAFPs were introduced into the chick neural tube by electroporation and each photoconverted in the neural crest or cells in the neural tube with exposure to 405 nm light, but showed dramatic differences in photoefficiency and photostability when compared at the same 2% laser power. KikGR and Kaede photoconverted with ratios only slightly lower than in vitro results, but cells rapidly photobleached after reaching maximal photoefficiency. PSCFP2 had the lowest photoefficiency and photoconverted nearly 70 times slower than the other dual-color PAFPs tested, but was effective at single-cell marking, especially with 2-photon excitation at 760 nm. The dual-color PAFPs were more effective to monitor cell migratory behaviors, since non-photoconverted neighboring cells were fluorescently marked with a separate color. However, photoconverted cells were limited in all cases to be visually distinguishable for long periods, with PSCFP2 visible from background the longest (48 hr). Thus, photoactivation in embryos has the potential to selectively mark less accessible cells with laser accuracy and may provide an effective means to study cell-cell interactions and short-term cell lineage in developmental and stem cell biology.
Copyright 2007 Wiley-Liss, Inc.