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Under the microscope: Spatial multiplexing

This month: Spatial multiplexing

Is this anything to do with really big cinemas?

Nope, afraid not. It is a way to simultaneously image up to five different molecules within a cell, by targeting glowing reporters to distinct locations inside the cell. It can be used to image cytoskeletal structures and organelles.

For what reason?

It allows scientists to distinguish signals for different molecules even though they may all be fluorescing the same colour.

Has this technique been in the news?

Yes it has. Back in 2020, a lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology developed the approach and the team has now taken it a step further with “switchable fluorophores”.

What does that involve?

Instead of distinguishing signals based on their physical location, they created fluorescent signals that vary over time. The technique relies on “switchable fluorophores” – fluorescent proteins that turn on and off at a specific rate.

Please continue.

Each of these switchable fluorophores can be used to label a different type of molecule within a living cell, such as an enzyme, signalling protein, or part of the cell cytoskeleton. After imaging the cell for several minutes, hours, or even days, the researchers use a computational algorithm to pick out the specific signal from each fluorophore, analogous to how the human ear can pick out different frequencies of sound.

What could the applications be?

This method could be useful for observing how cells respond to any kind of input, such as nutrients, immune system factors, hormones, or neurotransmitters, according to the researchers. It could also be used to study how cells respond to changes in gene expression or genetic mutations.  

Where can I read more?

You can read it here bit.ly/3RnqXyr

Image credit | iStock

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