A Novel Method to Map Small RNAs with High Resolution

Bio Protoc. 2021 Aug 20;11(16):e4128. doi: 10.21769/BioProtoc.4128.


Analyzing cellular structures and the relative location of molecules is essential for addressing biological questions. Super-resolution microscopy techniques that bypass the light diffraction limit have become increasingly popular to study cellular molecule dynamics in situ. However, the application of super-resolution imaging techniques to detect small RNAs (sRNAs) is limited by the choice of proper fluorophores, autofluorescence of samples, and failure to multiplex. Here, we describe an sRNA-PAINT protocol for the detection of sRNAs at nanometer resolution. The method combines the specificity of locked nucleic acid probes and the low background, precise quantitation, and multiplexable characteristics of DNA Point Accumulation for Imaging in Nanoscale Topography (DNA-PAINT). Using this method, we successfully located sRNA targets that are important for development in maize anthers at sub-20 nm resolution and quantitated their exact copy numbers. Graphic abstract: Multiplexed sRNA-PAINT. Multiple Vetting and Analysis of RNA for In Situ Hybridization (VARNISH) probes with different docking strands (i.e., a, b, …) will be hybridized to samples. The first probe will be imaged with the a* imager. The a* imager will be washed off with buffer C, and then the sample will be imaged with b* imager. The wash and image steps can be repeated sequentially for multiplexing.

Keywords: DNA-PAINT; In situ hybridization; LNA; Microscopy; RNA detection; Single molecule; Small RNA; Super-resolution; sRNA.