Ultrahigh resolution imaging of biomolecules by fluorescence photoactivation localization microscopy

Methods Mol Biol. 2009:544:483-522. doi: 10.1007/978-1-59745-483-4_32.


Diffraction limits the biological structures that can be imaged by normal light microscopy. However, recently developed techniques are breaking the limits that diffraction poses and allowing imaging of biological samples at the molecular length scale. Fluorescence photoactivation localization microscopy (FPALM) and related methods can now image molecular distributions in fixed and living cells with measured resolution better than 30 nm. Based on localization of single photoactivatable molecules, FPALM uses repeated cycles of activation, localization, and photobleaching, combined with high-sensitivity fluorescence imaging, to identify and localize large numbers of molecules within a sample. Procedures and pitfalls for construction and use of such a microscope are discussed in detail. Representative images of cytosolic proteins, membrane proteins, and other structures, as well as examples of results during acquisition are shown. It is hoped that these details can be used to perform FPALM on a variety of biological samples, to significantly advance the understanding of biological systems.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Cells / metabolism
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical
  • Fluorescence Recovery After Photobleaching
  • Fluorescent Dyes
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence / instrumentation
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence / methods*
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence / statistics & numerical data
  • Photobleaching
  • Photochemical Processes
  • Proteins / metabolism


  • Fluorescent Dyes
  • Proteins