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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Quantitative Imaging in Cell Biology

  • Author(s): Yassif, Jaime
  • Advisor(s): Liphardt, Jan T
  • et al.

Cells perform a range of complex functions to maintain homeostasis, including regulation of gene expression, selective trafficking of molecules between subcellular compartments, and protein expression. These processes are mediated by dynamic complexes of proteins and other molecules. Quantitative imaging in biology is concerned with answering questions about the spatial distribution, dynamics and conformational changes of these complexes as they perform their biological functions. This study utilizes a range of quantitative imaging techniques--including plasmon rulers, quantitative fluorescence microscopy, fluorescence recovery after photobleaching (FRAP), and super-resolution imaging--to answer biologically relevant questions.

Microorganisms often contend with fluctuating environmental conditions and shifting metabolic demands, and their survival depends on their ability to rapidly alter gene expression. In bacteria, rapid regulation of gene expression is facilitated by transcription attenuation and anti-termination mechanisms that involve the binding of proteins to RNA and the manipulation of RNA structure. In Bacillus species the trp RNA-binding Attenuation Protein (TRAP) modulates the expression of the tryptophan biosynthetic pathway by binding messenger RNA and interfering with transcription elongation. Chapter 2 describes work to characterize the mechanism of TRAP binding to RNA, utilizing a single-molecule method that employs RNA-linked pairs of gold nano-particles--plasmon rulers.

Eukaryotic cells segregate their genetic material into an envelope-bound nucleus, and all transport and communication between this compartment and the cytoplasm is mediated by the nuclear pore complex (NPC), a large multi-protein channel. NPC-mediated transport of materials between the cytoplasm and the nucleus is essential for many basic cell functions. The components of this molecular machine have been characterized, and there are several unproven models that describe how these components might function in concert. However, the mechanism by which this system of molecules mediates selective, direction transport has yet to be elucidated.

The nuclear transport receptor importin-β, as well as Ran and Nup153 have been shown to be necessary for modulating selectivity of active and passive transport through the NPC. This study provides mechanistic details about importin-β interactions with the pore, which mediate selective, directional transport. Quantitative fluorescence microscopy, FRAP and super-resolution imaging are used to study the interplay of importin-β, Ran and Nup153 in regulating the selectivity and efficiency of the mammalian NPC. Chapter 3 describes the use of FRAP and inverse FRAP (iFRAP) to quantify the dynamics of importin-β turnover in the nuclear pore complex. Chapter 4 describes the use of super-resolution microscopy to characterize the distribution of importin-β in the NPC under a range of conditions.

This study characterizes the thermodynamics and kinetics of importin-β interaction with the NPC and shows how Ran and Nup153 mediate these interactions. Importin-β is an integral part of the NPC gate, and Ran acts to remodel this gate. The nucleoporin Nup153 plays a critical in the mechanism, acting as a coordinating site for importin-β and Ran action.

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