Research Article

Extended-resolution structured illumination imaging of endocytic and cytoskeletal dynamics

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Science  28 Aug 2015:
Vol. 349, Issue 6251, aab3500
DOI: 10.1126/science.aab3500

Adding to the super-resolution arsenal

Structured illumination microscopy (SIM) uses light intensities that are orders of magnitude lower than other super-resolution methods. SIM is also far faster over cellular-sized fields of view. Li et al. used two approaches to improve the resolution of SIM to allow live cell imaging of dynamic cellular processes, including endocytosis and cytoskeleton remodeling. The contrast in performance between SIM and other techniques is due to a few key differences. Defining the practical resolution at the limited signal-to-noise ratios necessary for live cell imaging will require better imaging metrics.

Science, this issue 10.1126/science.aab3500

Structured Abstract


Various methods of super-resolution (SR) fluorescence microscopy have the potential to follow the dynamic nanoscale interactions of specific macromolecular assemblies in living cells. However, this potential is often left unfulfilled, either owing to the method’s inability to follow these processes at the speeds dictated by nature or because they require intense light that can substantially perturb the very physiology one hopes to study. An exception is structured illumination microscopy (SIM), which can image live cells far faster and with orders of magnitude less light than required for other SR approaches. However, SIM’s resolution is usually limited to only a twofold gain beyond conventional optical microscopes, or ~100 nm with visible light.


We endeavored to find ways to extend SIM to the sub-100-nm regime while retaining, to the greatest extent possible, the advantages that make it the preferred SR method for live-cell imaging. Our first solution used an ultrahigh numerical aperture (NA) lens and total internal reflection fluorescence (TIRF) to achieve 84-nm resolution at subsecond acquisition speeds over hundreds of time points in multiple colors near the basal plasma membrane. Our second exploited the spatially patterned activation of a recently developed, reversibly photoswitchable fluorescent protein to reach 45- to 62-nm resolution, also at subsecond acquisition, over ∼10 to 40 time points.


We used high-NA TIRF-SIM to image the dynamic associations of cortical filamentous actin with myosin IIA, paxillin, or clathrin, as well as paxillin with vinculin and clathrin with transferrin receptors. Thanks to the combination of high spatial and temporal resolution, we were able to measure the sizes of individual clathrin-coated pits through their initiation, growth, and internalization. We were also able to relate pit size to lifetime, identify and characterize localized hot spots of pit generation, and describe the interaction of actin with clathrin and its role in accelerating endocytosis. With nonlinear SIM by use of patterned activation (PA NL-SIM), we monitored the remodeling of the actin cytoskeleton and the dynamics of caveolae at the cell surface. By combining TIRF-SIM and PA NL-SIM for two-color imaging, we followed the dynamic association of actin with α-actinin in expanding filopodia and membrane ruffles and characterized shape changes in and the transport of early endosomes. Last, by combining PA NL-SIM with lattice light sheet microscopy, we observed, in three dimensions and across the entire volume of whole cells, the dynamics of the actin cytoskeleton, the fusion and fission of mitochondria, and the trafficking of vesicles to and from the Golgi apparatus, each at axial resolution fivefold better than that of conventional widefield microscopy.

In addition, through direct experimental comparisons, we demonstrated that the resolution for our methods is comparable with or better than other SR approaches yet allowed us to image at far higher speeds, and for far longer durations. To understand why this is so, we developed a detailed theoretical model showing that our methods transmit the information encoded in spatial frequencies beyond the diffraction limit with much greater strength than do other alternatives and hence require far fewer photons emitted from the specimen, using far less intense light.


High-NA TIRF-SIM and PA NL-SIM fill an unmet need for minimally invasive tools to image live cells in the gap between the 100-nm resolution traditionally associated with SIM and the sub-60-nm regime of protein-specific structural imaging served by single-molecule localization microscopy.

Two approaches for improved live-cell imaging at sub-100-nm resolution.

(Left) Association of cortical actin (purple) with clathrin-coated pits (green), the latter seen as rings (inset) at 84-nm resolution via a combination of total internal reflection fluorescence and structured illumination microscopy at ultrahigh numerical aperture (high-NA TIRF-SIM). (Right) Progression of resolution improvement across the actin cytoskeleton of a COS-7 cell, from conventional, diffraction-limited TIRF (220-nm resolution), to TIRF-SIM (97-nm resolution), and nonlinear SIM based on the patterned activation of a reversibly photoswitchable fluorescent protein (PA NL-SIM, 62 nm resolution). (Left and right represent single frames from time-lapse movies over 91 and 30 frames, respectively. Scale bars, 2 μm (left); 3 μm (right).


Super-resolution fluorescence microscopy is distinct among nanoscale imaging tools in its ability to image protein dynamics in living cells. Structured illumination microscopy (SIM) stands out in this regard because of its high speed and low illumination intensities, but typically offers only a twofold resolution gain. We extended the resolution of live-cell SIM through two approaches: ultrahigh numerical aperture SIM at 84-nanometer lateral resolution for more than 100 multicolor frames, and nonlinear SIM with patterned activation at 45- to 62-nanometer resolution for approximately 20 to 40 frames. We applied these approaches to image dynamics near the plasma membrane of spatially resolved assemblies of clathrin and caveolin, Rab5a in early endosomes, and α-actinin, often in relationship to cortical actin. In addition, we examined mitochondria, actin, and the Golgi apparatus dynamics in three dimensions.

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