SNARE proteins play a crucial role in intracellular trafficking by catalyzing membrane fusion, but assigning SNAREs to specific intracellular transport routes is challenging with current techniques. We developed a novel Förster resonance energy transfer-fluorescence lifetime imaging microscopy (FRET-FLIM)-based technique allowing visualization of real-time local interactions of fluorescently tagged SNARE proteins in live cells. We used FRET-FLIM to delineate the trafficking steps underlying the release of the inflammatory cytokine interleukin-6 (IL-6) from human blood-derived dendritic cells. We found that activation of dendritic cells by bacterial lipopolysaccharide leads to increased FRET of fluorescently labeled syntaxin 4 with VAMP3 specifically at the plasma membrane, indicating increased SNARE complex formation, whereas FRET with other tested SNAREs was unaltered. Our results revealed that SNARE complexing is a key regulatory step for cytokine production by immune cells and prove the applicability of FRET-FLIM for visualizing SNARE complexes in live cells with subcellular spatial resolution.
Keywords: FRET-FLIM; SNARE proteins; biophysics; dendritic cells; human; immunology; membrane trafficking; structural biology.