RNA is the fundamental information transfer system in the cell. The ability to follow single messenger RNAs (mRNAs) from transcription to degradation with fluorescent probes gives quantitative information about how the information is transferred from DNA to proteins. This review focuses on the latest technological developments in the field of single-mRNA detection and their usage to study gene expression in both fixed and live cells. By describing the application of these imaging tools, we follow the journey of mRNA from transcription to decay in single cells, with single-molecule resolution. We review current theoretical models for describing transcription and translation that were generated by single-molecule and single-cell studies. These methods provide a basis to study how single-molecule interactions generate phenotypes, fundamentally changing our understating of gene expression regulation.
Keywords: gene expression; imaging; kinetics; single-cell; single-mRNA imaging; single-molecule.