Super-Resolution Microscopy: Shedding Light on the Cellular Plasma Membrane

Chem Rev. 2017 Jun 14;117(11):7457-7477. doi: 10.1021/acs.chemrev.6b00716. Epub 2017 Feb 17.


Lipids and the membranes they form are fundamental building blocks of cellular life, and their geometry and chemical properties distinguish membranes from other cellular environments. Collective processes occurring within membranes strongly impact cellular behavior and biochemistry, and understanding these processes presents unique challenges due to the often complex and myriad interactions between membrane components. Super-resolution microscopy offers a significant gain in resolution over traditional optical microscopy, enabling the localization of individual molecules even in densely labeled samples and in cellular and tissue environments. These microscopy techniques have been used to examine the organization and dynamics of plasma membrane components, providing insight into the fundamental interactions that determine membrane functions. Here, we broadly introduce the structure and organization of the mammalian plasma membrane and review recent applications of super-resolution microscopy to the study of membranes. We then highlight some inherent challenges faced when using super-resolution microscopy to study membranes, and we discuss recent technical advancements that promise further improvements to super-resolution microscopy and its application to the plasma membrane.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Membrane*
  • Humans
  • Light*
  • Microscopy