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Exploring dynamics in living cells by tracking single particles


In the last years, significant advances in microscopy techniques and the introduction of a novel technology to label living cells with genetically encoded fluorescent proteins revolutionized the field of Cell Biology. Our understanding on cell dynamics built from snapshots on fixed specimens has evolved thanks to our actual capability to monitor in real time the evolution of processes in living cells. Among these new tools, single particle tracking techniques were developed to observe and follow individual particles. Hence, we are starting to unravel the mechanisms driving the motion of a wide variety of cellular components ranging from organelles to protein molecules by following their way through the cell. In this review, we introduce the single particle tracking technology to new users. We briefly describe the instrumentation and explain some of the algorithms commonly used to locate and track particles. Also, we present some common tools used to analyze trajectories and illustrate with some examples the applications of single particle tracking to study dynamics in living cells.

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