Super-resolution microscopy: a comparative treatment

Curr Protoc Cytom. 2012 Oct;Chapter 2:Unit2.17. doi: 10.1002/0471142956.cy0217s62.


One of the fundamental limitations of optical microscopy is that of diffraction, or in essence, how small a beam of light can be focused by using an optical lens system. This constraint, or barrier if you will, was theoretically described by Ernst Abbe in 1873 and is roughly equal to half the wavelength of light used to probe the system. Many structures, particularly those within cells, are much smaller than this limit and thus are difficult to visualize. Over the last two decades, a new field of super-resolution imaging has been created and been developed into a broad range of techniques that allow routine imaging beyond the far-field diffraction limit of light. In this unit we outline the basic principles of the various super-resolution imaging modalities, paying particular attention to the technical considerations for biological imaging. Furthermore, we discuss their various applications in the imaging of both fixed and live biological samples.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Biosensing Techniques
  • Fluorescent Dyes / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Interferometry / methods
  • Light
  • Microscopy / methods*
  • Microscopy, Electron / methods
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence / methods*
  • Models, Statistical
  • T-Lymphocytes / cytology


  • Fluorescent Dyes