Single-molecule tracking has become a widely used technique for studying protein dynamics and their organization in the complex environment of the cell. In particular, the spatiotemporal distribution of membrane receptors is an active field of study due to its putative role in the regulation of signal transduction. The SNAP-tag is an intrinsically monovalent and highly specific genetic tag for attaching a fluorescent label to a protein of interest. Little information is currently available on the choice of optimal fluorescent dyes for single-molecule microscopy utilizing the SNAP-tag labeling system. We surveyed 6 green and 16 red excitable dyes for their suitability in single-molecule microscopy of SNAP-tag fusion proteins in live cells. We determined the nonspecific binding levels and photostability of these dye conjugates when bound to a SNAP-tag fused membrane protein in live cells. We found that only a limited subset of the dyes tested is suitable for single-molecule tracking microscopy. The results show that a careful choice of the dye to conjugate to the SNAP-substrate to label SNAP-tag fusion proteins is very important, as many dyes suffer from either rapid photobleaching or high nonspecific staining. These characteristics appear to be unpredictable, which motivated the need to perform the systematic survey presented here. We have developed a protocol for evaluating the best dyes, and for the conditions that we evaluated, we find that Dy 549 and CF 640 are the best choices tested for single-molecule tracking. Using an optimal dye pair, we also demonstrate the possibility of dual-color single-molecule imaging of SNAP-tag fusion proteins. This survey provides an overview of the photophysical and imaging properties of a range of SNAP-tag fluorescent substrates, enabling the selection of optimal dyes and conditions for single-molecule imaging of SNAP-tagged fusion proteins in eukaryotic cell lines.

Elsevier/ Cell Press
Biophys. J.

Bosch, P. J., Correa, I. R., Sonntag, M. H., Ibach, J., Brunsveld, L., Kanger, J. S., & Subramaniam, V. (2014). Evaluation of fluorophores to label SNAP-tag fused proteins for multicolor single molecule tracking microscopy in live cells. Biophys. J., 107(4), 803–814. doi:10.1016/j.bpj.2014.06.040