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We combined photoactivated localization microscopy (PALM) with live-cell single-particle tracking to create a new method termed sptPALM. We created spatially resolved maps of single-molecule motions by imaging the membrane proteins Gag and VSVG, and obtained several orders of magnitude more trajectories per cell than traditional single-particle tracking enables. By probing distinct subsets of molecules, sptPALM can provide insight into the origins of spatial and temporal heterogeneities in membranes.
Commentary: As a stepping stone to true live cell PALM (see above), our collaborator Jennifer Lippincott-Schwartz suggested using the sparse photoactivation principle of PALM to track the nanoscale motion of thousands of individual molecules within a single living cell. Termed single particle tracking PALM (sptPALM), Jennifer’s postdocs Suliana Manley and Jen Gillette used the method in our PALM rig to create spatially resolved maps of diffusion rates in the plasma membrane of live cells. sptPALM is a powerful tool to study the active cytoskeletal or passive diffusional transport of individual molecules with far more measurements per cell than is possible without sparse photoactivation.