Mapping translation 'hot-spots' in live cells by tracking single molecules of mRNA and ribosomes

Elife. 2016 Jan 13:5:e10415. doi: 10.7554/eLife.10415.


Messenger RNA localization is important for cell motility by local protein translation. However, while single mRNAs can be imaged and their movements tracked in single cells, it has not yet been possible to determine whether these mRNAs are actively translating. Therefore, we imaged single β-actin mRNAs tagged with MS2 stem loops colocalizing with labeled ribosomes to determine when polysomes formed. A dataset of tracking information consisting of thousands of trajectories per cell demonstrated that mRNAs co-moving with ribosomes have significantly different diffusion properties from non-translating mRNAs that were exposed to translation inhibitors. These data indicate that ribosome load changes mRNA movement and therefore highly translating mRNAs move slower. Importantly, β-actin mRNA near focal adhesions exhibited sub-diffusive corralled movement characteristic of increased translation. This method can identify where ribosomes become engaged for local protein production and how spatial regulation of mRNA-protein interactions mediates cell directionality.

Keywords: biophysics; cell biology; cell motility; focal adhesion; mRNA localization; mouse; single molecule tracking; structural biology; translation.

MeSH terms

  • Actins / biosynthesis*
  • Animals
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Fibroblasts / physiology
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted / methods
  • Mice
  • Optical Imaging / methods*
  • Protein Biosynthesis*
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism*
  • Ribosomes / metabolism*
  • Staining and Labeling / methods


  • Actins
  • RNA, Messenger

Grants and funding

The funders had no role in study design, data collection and interpretation, or the decision to submit the work for publication.