Lessons from (pre-)mRNA Imaging

Adv Exp Med Biol. 2019:1203:247-284. doi: 10.1007/978-3-030-31434-7_9.


Cells are complex assemblies of molecules organized into organelles and membraneless compartments, each playing important roles in ensuring cellular homeostasis. The different steps of the gene expression pathway take place within these various cellular compartments, and studying gene regulation and RNA metabolism requires incorporating the spatial as well as temporal separation and progression of these processes. Microscopy has been a valuable tool to study RNA metabolism, as it allows the study of biomolecules in the context of intact individual cells, embryos or tissues, preserving cellular context often lost in experimental approaches that require the collection and lysis of cells in large numbers to obtain sufficient material for different types of assays. Indeed, from the first detection of RNAs and ribosomes in cells to today's ability to study the behaviour of single RNA molecules in living cells, or the expression profile and localization of hundreds of mRNA simultaneously in cells, constant effort in developing tools for microscopy has extensively contributed to our understanding of gene regulation. In this chapter, we will describe the role various microscopy approaches have played in shaping our current understanding of mRNA metabolism and outline how continuous development of new approaches might help in finding answers to outstanding questions or help to look at old dogmas through a new lens.

Keywords: Electron microscopy; Gene expression; In situ hybridization; Polysomes; RNA imaging; Single molecule microscopy; mRNA; mRNPs; smFISH.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Gene Expression
  • Humans
  • In Situ Hybridization, Fluorescence
  • Molecular Imaging
  • RNA Precursors*
  • RNA, Messenger* / metabolism


  • RNA Precursors
  • RNA, Messenger