Single-Molecule Imaging of mRNA Localization and Regulation during the Integrated Stress Response

Mol Cell. 2019 Mar 7;73(5):946-958.e7. doi: 10.1016/j.molcel.2018.12.006. Epub 2019 Jan 17.


Biological phase transitions form membrane-less organelles that generate distinct cellular environments. How molecules are partitioned between these compartments and the surrounding cellular space and the functional consequence of this localization is not well understood. Here, we report the localization of mRNA to stress granules (SGs) and processing bodies (PBs) and its effect on translation and degradation during the integrated stress response. Using single mRNA imaging in living human cells, we find that the interactions of mRNAs with SGs and PBs have different dynamics, very few mRNAs directly move between SGs and PBs, and that specific RNA-binding proteins can anchor mRNAs within these compartments. During recovery from stress, we show that mRNAs that were within SGs and PBs are translated and degraded at similar rates as their cytosolic counterparts. Our work provides a framework for using single-molecule measurements to directly investigate the molecular mechanisms of phase-separated compartments within their cellular environment.

Keywords: fluorescence microscopy; live-cell imaging; mRNA decay; mRNA localization; processing bodies; single-molecule; stress granules; translation.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Autoantigens / genetics
  • Autoantigens / metabolism
  • Biological Transport
  • Cytoplasmic Granules / genetics
  • Cytoplasmic Granules / metabolism*
  • HeLa Cells
  • Humans
  • In Situ Hybridization, Fluorescence*
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence
  • Protein Binding
  • Protein Biosynthesis*
  • RNA 5' Terminal Oligopyrimidine Sequence
  • RNA Stability*
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism*
  • Ribonucleoproteins / genetics
  • Ribonucleoproteins / metabolism
  • Single Molecule Imaging / methods*
  • Stress, Physiological*
  • Time Factors


  • Autoantigens
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Ribonucleoproteins
  • SS-B antigen