This review provides a practical introduction to superresolution microscopy from the perspective of microbiological research. Because of the small sizes of bacterial cells, superresolution methods are particularly powerful and suitable for revealing details of cellular structures that are not resolvable under conventional fluorescence light microscopy. Here we describe the methodological concepts behind three major categories of superresolution light microscopy: photoactivated localization microscopy (PALM) and stochastic optical reconstruction microscopy (STORM), structured illumination microscopy (SIM) and stimulated emission-depletion (STED) microscopy. We then present recent applications of each of these techniques to microbial systems, which have revealed novel conformations of cellular structures and described new properties of in vivo protein function and interactions. Finally, we discuss the unique issues related to implementing each of these superresolution techniques with bacterial specimens and suggest avenues for future development. The goal of this review is to provide the necessary technical background for interested microbiologists to choose the appropriate superresolution method for their biological systems, and to introduce the practical considerations required for designing and analysing superresolution imaging experiments.
© 2012 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.