Enlightening G-protein-coupled receptors on the plasma membrane using super-resolution photoactivated localization microscopy
The possibility to visualize and image the arrangement of proteins within the cell at the molecular level has always been an attraction for scientists in biological research. In particular, for signalling molecules such as GPCRs (G-protein-coupled receptors), the existence of protein aggregates such as oligomers or clusters has been the topic of extensive debate. One of the reasons for this lively argument is that the molecular size is below the diffraction-limited resolution of the conventional microscopy, precluding the direct visualization of protein super-structures. On the other hand, new super-resolution microscopy techniques, such as the PALM (photoactivated localization microscopy), allow the limit of the resolution power of conventional optics to be broken and the localization of single molecules to be determined with a precision of 10-20 nm, close to their molecular size. The application of super-resolution microscopy to study the spatial and temporal organization of GPCRs has brought new insights into receptor arrangement on the plasma membrane. Furthermore, the use of this powerful microscopy technique as a quantitative tool opens up the possibility for investigating and quantifying the number of molecules in biological assemblies and determining the protein stoichiometry in signalling complexes.