Imaging of protein-protein and RNA-protein interactions in vivo, especially in live animals, is still challenging. Here we developed far-red mNeptune-based bimolecular fluorescence complementation (BiFC) and trimolecular fluorescence complementation (TriFC) systems with excitation and emission above 600 nm in the 'tissue optical window' for imaging of protein-protein and RNA-protein interactions in live cells and mice. The far-red mNeptune BiFC was first built by selecting appropriate split mNeptune fragments, and then the mNeptune-TriFC system was built based on the mNeptune-BiFC system. The newly constructed mNeptune BiFC and TriFC systems were verified as useful tools for imaging protein-protein and mRNA-protein interactions, respectively, in live cells and mice. We then used the new mNeptune-TriFC system to investigate the interactions between human polypyrimidine-tract-binding protein (PTB) and HIV-1 mRNA elements as PTB may participate in HIV mRNA processing in HIV activation from latency. An interaction between PTB and the 3'long terminal repeat region of HIV-1 mRNAs was found and imaged in live cells and mice, implying a role for PTB in regulating HIV-1 mRNA processing. The study provides new tools for in vivo imaging of RNA-protein and protein-protein interactions, and adds new insight into the mechanism of HIV-1 mRNA processing.
© The Author(s) 2014. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of Nucleic Acids Research.