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Our ability to unambiguously image and track individual molecules in live cells is limited by packing of multiple copies of labeled molecules within the resolution limit. Here we devise a universal genetic strategy to precisely control copy number of fluorescently labeled molecules in a cell. This system has a dynamic titration range of >10,000 fold, enabling sparse labeling of proteins expressed at different abundance levels. Combined with photostable labels, this system extends the duration of automated single-molecule tracking by 2 orders of magnitude. We demonstrate long-term imaging of synaptic vesicle dynamics in cultured neurons as well as in intact zebrafish. We found axon initial segment utilizes a "waterfall" mechanism gating synaptic vesicle transport polarity by promoting anterograde transport processivity. Long-time observation also reveals that transcription factor hops between clustered binding sites in spatially-restricted sub-nuclear regions, suggesting that topological structures in the nucleus shape local gene activities by a sequestering mechanism. This strategy thus greatly expands the spatiotemporal length scales of live-cell single-molecule measurements, enabling new experiments to quantitatively understand complex control of molecular dynamics in vivo.
PMID: 29284749 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
Preprint available at bioRxiv (doi: https://doi.org/10.1101/116186).