Signal analysis of total internal reflection fluorescent speckle microscopy (TIR-FSM) and wide-field epi-fluorescence FSM of the actin cytoskeleton and focal adhesions in living cells.
Fluorescent speckle microscopy (FSM) uses low levels of fluorescent proteins to create fluorescent speckles on cytoskeletal polymers in high-resolution fluorescence images of living cells. The dynamics of speckles over time encode subunit turnover and motion of the cytoskeletal polymers. We sought to improve on current FSM technology by first expanding it to study the dynamics of a non-polymeric macromolecular assembly, using focal adhesions as a test case, and second, to exploit for FSM the high contrast afforded by total internal reflection fluorescence microscopy (TIR-FM). Here, we first demonstrate that low levels of expression of a green fluorescent protein (GFP) conjugate of the focal adhesion protein, vinculin, results in clusters of fluorescent vinculin speckles on the ventral cell surface, which by immunofluorescence labelling of total vinculin correspond to sparse labelling of dense focal adhesion structures. This demonstrates that the FSM principle can be applied to study focal adhesions. We then use both GFP-vinculin expression and microinjected fluorescently labelled purified actin to compare quantitatively the speckle signal in FSM images of focal adhesions and the actin cytoskeleton in living cells by TIR-FM and wide-field epifluorescence microscopy. We use quantitative FSM image analysis software to define two new parameters for analysing FSM signal features that we can extract automatically: speckle modulation and speckle detectability. Our analysis shows that TIR-FSM affords major improvements in these parameters compared with wide-field epifluorescence FSM. Finally, we find that use of a crippled eukaryotic expression promoter for driving low-level GFP-fusion protein expression is a useful tool for FSM imaging. When used in time-lapse mode, TIR-FSM of actin and GFP-conjugated focal adhesion proteins will allow quantification of molecular dynamics within interesting macromolecular assemblies at the ventral surface of living cells.