Imaging complex protein metabolism in live organisms by stimulated Raman scattering microscopy with isotope labeling

ACS Chem Biol. 2015 Mar 20;10(3):901-8. doi: 10.1021/cb500787b. Epub 2015 Jan 15.


Protein metabolism, consisting of both synthesis and degradation, is highly complex, playing an indispensable regulatory role throughout physiological and pathological processes. Over recent decades, extensive efforts, using approaches such as autoradiography, mass spectrometry, and fluorescence microscopy, have been devoted to the study of protein metabolism. However, noninvasive and global visualization of protein metabolism has proven to be highly challenging, especially in live systems. Recently, stimulated Raman scattering (SRS) microscopy coupled with metabolic labeling of deuterated amino acids (D-AAs) was demonstrated for use in imaging newly synthesized proteins in cultured cell lines. Herein, we significantly generalize this notion to develop a comprehensive labeling and imaging platform for live visualization of complex protein metabolism, including synthesis, degradation, and pulse-chase analysis of two temporally defined populations. First, the deuterium labeling efficiency was optimized, allowing time-lapse imaging of protein synthesis dynamics within individual live cells with high spatial-temporal resolution. Second, by tracking the methyl group (CH3) distribution attributed to pre-existing proteins, this platform also enables us to map protein degradation inside live cells. Third, using two subsets of structurally and spectroscopically distinct D-AAs, we achieved two-color pulse-chase imaging, as demonstrated by observing aggregate formation of mutant hungtingtin proteins. Finally, going beyond simple cell lines, we demonstrated the imaging ability of protein synthesis in brain tissues, zebrafish, and mice in vivo. Hence, the presented labeling and imaging platform would be a valuable tool to study complex protein metabolism with high sensitivity, resolution, and biocompatibility for a broad spectrum of systems ranging from cells to model animals and possibly to humans.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acids / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Brain / ultrastructure
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Deuterium / metabolism
  • Embryo, Nonmammalian
  • HeLa Cells
  • Humans
  • Isotope Labeling / methods
  • Mice
  • Microscopy / instrumentation
  • Microscopy / methods*
  • Molecular Imaging / instrumentation
  • Molecular Imaging / methods
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Neurons / ultrastructure
  • Protein Biosynthesis*
  • Proteins / chemistry
  • Proteins / metabolism*
  • Proteolysis*
  • Spectrum Analysis, Raman / instrumentation
  • Spectrum Analysis, Raman / methods*
  • Zebrafish


  • Amino Acids
  • Proteins
  • Deuterium