Imaging the Life and Death of mRNAs in Single Cells

Cold Spring Harb Perspect Biol. 2018 Dec 3;10(12):a032086. doi: 10.1101/cshperspect.a032086.


RNA plays a central role in gene expression from its transcription in the nucleus through translation and degradation in the cytoplasm. Technological advances in fluorescent microscopy and labeling methodologies have made it possible to detect single molecules of RNA in both fixed and living cells. Here, we focus on the recent developments in RNA imaging that have allowed quantitatively measuring the lives of individual transcripts from birth to death and all the events in between in single cells and tissues. Direct observation of RNAs within their native cellular environment has revealed a complex layer of spatial and temporal regulation that has profoundly impacted our understanding of RNA biology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Gene Expression Regulation / physiology*
  • Humans
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism*
  • Single-Cell Analysis / methods*


  • RNA, Messenger