Chemical tags: applications in live cell fluorescence imaging

J Biophotonics. 2011 Jun;4(6):391-402. doi: 10.1002/jbio.201100018. Epub 2011 May 12.


Technologies to visualize cellular structures and dynamics enable cell biologists to gain insight into complex biological processes. Currently, fluorescent proteins are used routinely to investigate the behavior of proteins in live cells. Chemical biology techniques for selective labeling of proteins with fluorescent labels have become an attractive alternative to fluorescent protein labeling. In the last ten years the progress in the development of chemical tagging methods have been substantial offering a broad palette of applications for live cell fluorescent microscopy. Several methods for protein labeling have been established, using protein tags, peptide tags and enzyme mediated tagging. This review focuses on the different strategies to achieve the attachment of fluorophores to proteins in live cells and cast light on the advantages and disadvantages of each individual method. Selected experiments in which chemical tags have been successfully applied to live cell imaging will be discussed and evaluated.

Publication types

  • Editorial
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biotinylation
  • Calcium / chemistry
  • Catalysis
  • Fluorescence
  • Fluorescent Dyes / pharmacology*
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins / chemistry
  • Ligands
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence / instrumentation*
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence / methods*
  • Models, Chemical
  • Peptides / chemistry
  • Proteins / chemistry
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Staining and Labeling / methods


  • Fluorescent Dyes
  • Ligands
  • Peptides
  • Proteins
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins
  • Calcium