Reversible cryo-arrest for imaging molecules in living cells at high spatial resolution

Nat Methods. 2016 Aug;13(8):665-672. doi: 10.1038/nmeth.3921. Epub 2016 Jul 11.


The dynamics of molecules in living cells hampers precise imaging of molecular patterns by functional and super-resolution microscopy. We developed a method that circumvents lethal chemical fixation and allows on-stage cryo-arrest for consecutive imaging of molecular patterns within the same living, but arrested, cells. The reversibility of consecutive cryo-arrests was demonstrated by the high survival rate of different cell lines and by intact growth factor signaling that was not perturbed by stress response. Reversible cryo-arrest was applied to study the evolution of ligand-induced receptor tyrosine kinase activation at different scales. The nanoscale clustering of epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) in the plasma membrane was assessed by single-molecule localization microscopy, and endosomal microscale activity patterns of ephrin receptor A2 (EphA2) were assessed by fluorescence lifetime imaging microscopy. Reversible cryo-arrest allows the precise determination of molecular patterns while conserving the dynamic capabilities of living cells.

MeSH terms

  • Cell Membrane / metabolism
  • Cold Temperature*
  • Cryoprotective Agents / chemistry*
  • Endosomes / metabolism
  • ErbB Receptors / metabolism*
  • HeLa Cells
  • Humans
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence / methods*
  • Molecular Imaging / methods*
  • Phosphorylation
  • Receptor, EphA2 / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction


  • Cryoprotective Agents
  • EGFR protein, human
  • ErbB Receptors
  • Receptor, EphA2