Challenges in long-term imaging and quantification of single-cell dynamics

Nat Biotechnol. 2016 Nov 8;34(11):1137-1144. doi: 10.1038/nbt.3713.


Continuous analysis of single cells, over several cell divisions and for up to weeks at a time, is crucial to deciphering rare, dynamic and heterogeneous cell responses, which would otherwise be missed by population or single-cell snapshot analysis. Although the field of long-term single-cell imaging, tracking and analysis is constantly advancing, several technical challenges continue to hinder wider implementation of this important approach. This is a particular problem for mammalian cells, where in vitro observation usually remains the only possible option for uninterrupted long-term, single-cell observation. Efforts must focus not only on identifying and maintaining culture conditions that support normal cellular behavior while allowing high-resolution imaging over time, but also on developing computational methods that enable semiautomatic analysis of the data. Solutions in microscopy hard- and software, computer vision and specialized theoretical methods for analysis of dynamic single-cell data will enable important discoveries in biology and beyond.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Physiological Phenomena / physiology*
  • Cell Tracking / methods*
  • Humans
  • Image Enhancement / methods*
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Microscopy / methods*
  • Molecular Imaging / methods*
  • Pattern Recognition, Automated / methods*