Rapid Sequential in Situ Multiplexing with DNA Exchange Imaging in Neuronal Cells and Tissues

Nano Lett. 2017 Oct 11;17(10):6131-6139. doi: 10.1021/acs.nanolett.7b02716. Epub 2017 Oct 2.


To decipher the molecular mechanisms of biological function, it is critical to map the molecular composition of individual cells or even more importantly tissue samples in the context of their biological environment in situ. Immunofluorescence (IF) provides specific labeling for molecular profiling. However, conventional IF methods have finite multiplexing capabilities due to spectral overlap of the fluorophores. Various sequential imaging methods have been developed to circumvent this spectral limit but are not widely adopted due to the common limitation of requiring multirounds of slow (typically over 2 h at room temperature to overnight at 4 °C in practice) immunostaining. We present here a practical and robust method, which we call DNA Exchange Imaging (DEI), for rapid in situ spectrally unlimited multiplexing. This technique overcomes speed restrictions by allowing for single-round immunostaining with DNA-barcoded antibodies, followed by rapid (less than 10 min) buffer exchange of fluorophore-bearing DNA imager strands. The programmability of DEI allows us to apply it to diverse microscopy platforms (with Exchange Confocal, Exchange-SIM, Exchange-STED, and Exchange-PAINT demonstrated here) at multiple desired resolution scales (from ∼300 nm down to sub-20 nm). We optimized and validated the use of DEI in complex biological samples, including primary neuron cultures and tissue sections. These results collectively suggest DNA exchange as a versatile, practical platform for rapid, highly multiplexed in situ imaging, potentially enabling new applications ranging from basic science, to drug discovery, and to clinical pathology.

Keywords: Highly multiplexed imaging; in situ protein detection; in situ protein−protein colocalization analysis; multiplexed cell type identification; super-resolution imaging.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / ultrastructure
  • Cells, Cultured
  • DNA / chemistry*
  • Fluorescent Dyes / chemistry
  • Hippocampus / cytology*
  • Hippocampus / ultrastructure
  • Immunoconjugates / chemistry*
  • Mice
  • Microscopy, Confocal / methods*
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence / methods
  • Neurons / cytology
  • Neurons / ultrastructure*
  • Optical Imaging / methods*
  • Protein Interaction Mapping / methods*
  • Retina / cytology
  • Retina / ultrastructure
  • Staining and Labeling / methods
  • Synapsins / analysis
  • Synaptophysin / analysis


  • Fluorescent Dyes
  • Immunoconjugates
  • Synapsins
  • Synaptophysin
  • DNA