Molecular trafficking within cells, tissues and engineered three-dimensional multicellular models is critical to the understanding of the development and treatment of various diseases including cancer. However, current tracking methods are either confined to two dimensions or limited to an interrogation depth of 15 μm. Our aim is to develop new 3D tracking techniques and algorithms to improve 3D tracking capability in tissue and in vivo models. We have recently developed a three-dimensional tracking method, termed TSUNAMI, capable of quantifying rapid molecular transport dynamics in highly scattering environments at depths up to 200 μm. The system has a response time of 1 ms with a temporal resolution down to 50 µs in high signal-to-noise conditions, and a spatial localization precision as good as 35 nm.
Built on spatiotemporally multiplexed two-photon excitation, this approach requires only one detector for three-dimensional particle tracking and allows for two-photon, multicolor imaging. An initial demonstration of the technique was performed on of epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) complexes at a depth of 100 μm in tumor spheroids. We are currently working to extend this technique’s capabilities with multi-color detection. Current application areas include early cancer diagnosis in circulating tumor cells, and study of EGFR trafficking in the cytoplasm.
Derailed transmembrane receptor trafficking could be a hallmark of tumorigenesis and increased tumor invasiveness, but receptor dynamics have not been used to differentiate metastatic cancer cells from less invasive ones. Using single-particle tracking techniques, we developed a phenotyping assay named Transmembrane Receptor Dynamics (TReD), studied the dynamics of epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) in seven breast epithelial cell lines and developed a phenotyping assay named Transmembrane Receptor Dynamics (TReD). Here we show a clear evidence that increased EGFR diffusivity and enlarged EGFR confinement size in the plasma membrane (PM) are correlated with the enhanced metastatic potential in these cell lines. By comparing the TReD results with the gene expression profiles, we found a clear negative correlation between the EGFR diffusivities and the breast cancer luminal differentiation scores (r = −0.75). Upon the induction of epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT), EGFR diffusivity significantly increased for the non-tumorigenic MCF10A (99%) and the non-invasive MCF7 (56%) cells, but not for the highly metastatic MDA-MB-231 cell. We believe that the reorganization of actin filaments during EMT modified the PM structures, causing the receptor dynamics to change. TReD can thus serve as a new biophysical marker to probe the metastatic potential of cancer cells and even to monitor the transition of metastasis.
Protein glycosylation provides proteomic diversity in regulating protein localization, stability, and activity; it remains largely unknown whether the sugar moiety contributes to immunosuppression. In the study of immune receptor glycosylation, we showed that EGF induces programmed death ligand 1 (PD-L1) and receptor programmed cell death protein 1 (PD-1) interaction, requiring β-1,3-N-acetylglucosaminyl transferase (B3GNT3) expression in triple-negative breast cancer. Downregulation of B3GNT3 enhances cytotoxic T cell-mediated anti-tumor immunity. A monoclonal antibody targeting glycosylated PD-L1 (gPD-L1) blocks PD-L1/PD-1 interaction and promotes PD-L1 internalization and degradation. In addition to immune reactivation, drug-conjugated gPD-L1 antibody induces a potent cell-killing effect as well as a bystander-killing effect on adjacent cancer cells lacking PD-L1 expression without any detectable toxicity. Our work suggests targeting protein glycosylation as a potential strategy to enhance immune checkpoint therapy.
Whereas important discoveries made by single-particle tracking have changed our view of the plasma membrane organization and motor protein dynamics in the past three decades, experimental studies of intracellular processes using single-particle tracking are rather scarce because of the lack of three-dimensional (3D) tracking capacity. In this study we use a newly developed 3D single-particle tracking method termed TSUNAMI (Tracking of Single particles Using Nonlinear And Multiplexed Illumination) to investigate epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) trafficking dynamics in live cells at 16/43 nm (xy/z) spatial resolution, with track duration ranging from 2 to 10 min and vertical tracking depth up to tens of microns. To analyze the long 3D trajectories generated by the TSUNAMI microscope, we developed a trajectory analysis algorithm, which reaches 81% segment classification accuracy in control experiments (termed simulated movement experiments). When analyzing 95 EGF-stimulated EGFR trajectories acquired in live skin cancer cells, we find that these trajectories can be separated into three groups—immobilization (24.2%), membrane diffusion only (51.6%), and transport from membrane to cytoplasm (24.2%). When EGFRs are membrane-bound, they show an interchange of Brownian diffusion and confined diffusion. When EGFRs are internalized, transitions from confined diffusion to directed diffusion and from directed diffusion back to confined diffusion are clearly seen. This observation agrees well with the model of clathrin-mediated endocytosis.
In the past two decades, significant advances have been made in single-molecule detection which enables the direct observation of single biomolecules at work in real time and under physiological conditions. In particular, the development of single-molecule tracking (SMT) microscopy allows us to monitor the motion paths of individual biomolecules in living systems, unveiling the localization dynamics, and transport modalities of the biomolecules that support the development of life. Beyond the capabilities of traditional camera-based tracking techniques, state-of-the-art SMT microscopies developed in recent years can record fluorescence lifetime while tracking a single molecule in the 3D space. This multiparameter detection capability can open the door to a wide range of investigations at the cellular or tissue level, including identification of molecular interaction hotspots and characterization of association/dissociation kinetics between molecules. In this review, we discuss various SMT techniques developed to date, with an emphasis on our recent development of the next generation 3D tracking system that not only achieves ultrahigh spatiotemporal resolution but also provides sufficient working depth suitable for live animal imaging. We also discuss the challenges that current SMT techniques are facing and the potential strategies to tackle those challenges.
Here, we present a method that can improve the z-tracking accuracy of the recently invented TSUNAMI (Tracking of Single particles Using Nonlinear And Multiplexed Illumination) microscope. This method utilizes a maximum likelihood estimator (MLE) to determine the particle's 3D position that maximizes the likelihood of the observed time-correlated photon count distribution. Our Monte Carlo simulations show that the MLE-based tracking scheme can improve the z-tracking accuracy of TSUNAMI microscope by 1.7 fold. In addition, MLE is also found to reduce the temporal correlation of the z-tracking error. Taking advantage of the smaller and less temporally correlated z-tracking error, we have precisely recovered the hybridization-melting kinetics of a DNA model system from thousands of short single-particle trajectories in silico. Our method can be generally applied to other 3D single-particle tracking techniques.
Molecular trafficking within cells, tissues and engineered three-dimensional multicellular models is critical to the understanding of the development and treatment of various diseases including cancer. However, current tracking methods are either confined to two dimensions or limited to an interrogation depth of ~15 μm. Here we present a three-dimensional tracking method capable of quantifying rapid molecular transport dynamics in highly scattering environments at depths up to 200 μm. The system has a response time of 1 ms with a temporal resolution down to 50 μs in high signal-to-noise conditions, and a spatial localization precision as good as 35 nm. Built on spatiotemporally multiplexed two-photon excitation, this approach requires only one detector for three-dimensional particle tracking and allows for two-photon, multicolour imaging. Here we demonstrate three-dimensional tracking of epidermal growth factor receptor complexes at a depth of ~100 μm in tumour spheroids.