Visualizing Intracellular SNARE Trafficking by Fluorescence Lifetime Imaging Microscopy

J Vis Exp. 2017 Dec 29:(130):56745. doi: 10.3791/56745.


Soluble N-ethylmaleimide sensitive fusion protein (NSF) attachment protein receptor (SNARE) proteins are key for membrane trafficking, as they catalyze membrane fusion within eukaryotic cells. The SNARE protein family consists of about 36 different members. Specific intracellular transport routes are catalyzed by specific sets of 3 or 4 SNARE proteins that thereby contribute to the specificity and fidelity of membrane trafficking. However, studying the precise function of SNARE proteins is technically challenging, because SNAREs are highly abundant and functionally redundant, with most SNAREs having multiple and overlapping functions. In this protocol, a new method for the visualization of SNARE complex formation in live cells is described. This method is based on expressing SNARE proteins C-terminally fused to fluorescent proteins and measuring their interaction by Förster resonance energy transfer (FRET) employing fluorescence lifetime imaging microscopy (FLIM). By fitting the fluorescence lifetime histograms with a multicomponent decay model, FRET-FLIM allows (semi-)quantitative estimation of the fraction of the SNARE complex formation at different vesicles. This protocol has been successfully applied to visualize SNARE complex formation at the plasma membrane and at endosomal compartments in mammalian cell lines and primary immune cells, and can be readily extended to study SNARE functions at other organelles in animal, plant, and fungal cells.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Video-Audio Media

MeSH terms

  • HeLa Cells
  • Humans
  • Membrane Fusion / physiology
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence / methods*
  • Protein Transport
  • SNARE Proteins / metabolism*


  • SNARE Proteins