FRAP and FRET methods to study nuclear receptors in living cells

Methods Mol Biol. 2009;505:69-96. doi: 10.1007/978-1-60327-575-0_5.


Quantitative imaging techniques of fluorescently-tagged proteins have been instrumental in the study of the behavior of nuclear receptors (NRs) and coregulators in living cells. Ligand-activated NRs exert their function in transcription regulation by binding to specific response elements in promotor and enhancer sequences of genes. Fluorescence recovery after photobleaching (FRAP) has proven to be a powerful tool to study the mobility of fluorescently-labeled molecules in living cells. Since binding to DNA leads to the immobilization of DNA-interacting proteins like NRs, FRAP is especially useful for determining DNA-binding kinetics of these proteins. The coordinated interaction of NRs with promoters/enhancers and subsequent transcription activation is not only regulated by ligand but also by interactions with sets of cofactors and, at least in the case of the androgen receptor (AR), by dimerization and interdomain interactions. In living cells, these interactions can be studied by fluorescence resonance energy transfer (FRET). Here we provide and discuss detailed protocols for FRAP and FRET procedures to study the behavior of nuclear receptors in living cells. On the basis of our studies of the AR, we provide protocols for two different FRAP methods (strip-FRAP and FLIP-FRAP) to quantitatively investigate DNA-interactions and for two different FRET approaches, ratio imaging, and acceptor photobleaching FRET to study AR domain interactions and interactions with cofactor motifs. Finally, we provide a protocol of a technique where FRAP and acceptor photobleaching FRET are combined to study the dynamics of interacting ARs.

MeSH terms

  • Cell Culture Techniques
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Fluorescence Recovery After Photobleaching / instrumentation
  • Fluorescence Recovery After Photobleaching / methods*
  • Fluorescence Resonance Energy Transfer / instrumentation
  • Fluorescence Resonance Energy Transfer / methods*
  • Humans
  • Luminescent Proteins / chemistry
  • Luminescent Proteins / genetics
  • Luminescent Proteins / metabolism
  • Models, Molecular
  • Protein Conformation
  • Receptors, Cytoplasmic and Nuclear / chemistry
  • Receptors, Cytoplasmic and Nuclear / genetics
  • Receptors, Cytoplasmic and Nuclear / metabolism*
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins / genetics
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins / metabolism


  • Luminescent Proteins
  • Receptors, Cytoplasmic and Nuclear
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins