Despite the importance and ubiquity of receptor oligomerization, few methods are applicable for detecting clustering events and measuring the degree of clustering. Here, we describe an imaging approach to determine the average oligomeric state of mEGFP-tagged-receptor homocomplexes in the membrane of living cells. The protocol is based on Total Internal Reflection Fluorescence (TIRF) microscopy combined with Number and Brightness (N&B) analysis. N&B is a method similar to fluorescence-correlation spectroscopy (FCS) and photon counting histogram (PCH), which are based on the statistical analysis of the fluctuations of the fluorescence intensity of fluorophores diffusing in and out of an illumination volume during an observation time. In particular, N&B is a simplification of PCH to obtain information on the average number of proteins in oligomeric mixtures. The intensity fluctuation amplitudes are described by the molecular brightness of the fluorophore and the average number of fluorophores within the illumination volume. Thus, N&B considers only the first and second moments of the amplitude distribution, namely, the mean intensity and the variance. This is, at the same time, the strength and the weakness of the method. Because only two moments are considered, N&B cannot determine the molar fraction of unknown oligomers in a mixture, but it only estimates the average oligomerization state of the mixture. Nevertheless, it can be applied to relatively small time series (compared to other moment methods) of images of live cells on a pixel-by-pixel basis, simply by monitoring the time fluctuations of the fluorescence intensity. It reduces the effective time-per-pixel to a few microseconds, allowing acquisition in the time range of seconds to milliseconds, which is necessary for fast oligomerization kinetics. Finally, large cell areas as well as sub-cellular compartments can be explored.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Chemical Engineering(all)
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Immunology and Microbiology(all)