Homo-FRET imaging enables quantification of protein cluster sizes with subcellular resolution

Biophys J. 2009 Nov 4;97(9):2613-22. doi: 10.1016/j.bpj.2009.07.059.


Fluorescence-anisotropy-based homo-FRET detection methods can be employed to study clustering of identical proteins in cells. Here, the potential of fluorescence anisotropy microscopy for the quantitative imaging of protein clusters with subcellular resolution is investigated. Steady-state and time-resolved anisotropy detection and both one- and two-photon excitation methods are compared. The methods are evaluated on cells expressing green fluorescent protein (GFP) constructs that contain one or two FK506-binding proteins. This makes it possible to control dimerization and oligomerization of the constructs and yields the experimental relation between anisotropy and cluster size. The results show that, independent of the experimental method, the commonly made assumption of complete depolarization after a single energy transfer step is not valid here. This is due to a nonrandom relative orientation of the fluorescent proteins. Our experiments show that this relative orientation is restricted by interactions between the GFP barrels. We describe how the experimental relation between anisotropy and cluster size can be employed in quantitative cluster size imaging experiments of other GFP fusions. Experiments on glycosylphosphatidylinisotol (GPI)-anchored proteins reveal that GPI forms clusters with an average size of more than two subunits. For epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR), we observe that approximately 40% of the unstimulated receptors are present in the plasma membrane as preexisting dimers. Both examples reveal subcellular heterogeneities in cluster size and distribution.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anisotropy
  • Dimerization
  • Electrophoresis, Polyacrylamide Gel
  • ErbB Receptors / chemistry
  • Fluorescence Resonance Energy Transfer / methods*
  • Glycosylphosphatidylinositols / chemistry
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Microscopy, Confocal / methods
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence / methods*
  • NIH 3T3 Cells
  • Proteins / chemistry*
  • Tacrolimus Binding Proteins / chemistry


  • Glycosylphosphatidylinositols
  • Proteins
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins
  • ErbB Receptors
  • Tacrolimus Binding Proteins