Visualizing endocytic recycling and trafficking in live neurons by subdiffractional tracking of internalized molecules

Merja Joensuu, Ramon Martínez-Mármol, Pranesh Padmanabhan, Nick R. Glass, Nela Durisic, Matthew Pelekanos, Mahdie Mollazade, Giuseppe Balistreri, Rumelo Amor, Justin J. Cooper-White, Geoffrey J. Goodhill, Frédéric A. Meunier

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


O ur understanding of endocytic pathway dynamics is restricted by the diffraction limit of light microscopy. Although super-resolution techniques can overcome this issue, highly crowded cellular environments, such as nerve terminals, can also dramatically limit the tracking of multiple endocytic vesicles such as synaptic vesicles (SVs), which in turn restricts the analytical dissection of their discrete diffusional and transport states. We recently introduced a pulsechase technique for subdiffractional tracking of internalized molecules (sdTIM) that allows the visualization of fluorescently tagged molecules trapped in individual signaling endosomes and SVs in presynapses or axons with 30- to 50-nm localization precision. We originally developed this approach for tracking single molecules of botulinum neurotoxin type A, which undergoes activity-dependent internalization and retrograde transport in autophagosomes. This method was then adapted to localize the signaling endosomes containing cholera toxin subunit-B that undergo retrograde transport in axons and to track SVs in the crowded environment of hippocampal presynapses. We describe (i) the construction of a custom-made microfluidic device that enables control over neuronal orientation; (ii) the 3D printing of a perfusion system for sdTIM experiments performed on glass-bottom dishes; (iii) the dissection, culturing and transfection of hippocampal neurons in microfluidic devices; and (iv) guidance on how to perform the pulsechase experiments and data analysis. In addition, we describe the use of single-molecule-tracking analytical tools to reveal the average and the heterogeneous single-molecule mobility behaviors. We also discuss alternative reagents and equipment that can, in principle, be used for sdTIM experiments and describe how to adapt sdTIM to image nanocluster formation and/or tubulation in early endosomes during sorting events. The procedures described in this protocol take 1 week.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2590-2622
Number of pages33
JournalNature Protocols
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 1 2017


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