Photoactivated localization microscopy with bimolecular fluorescence complementation (Bifc-palm)

Andrew Nickerson, Tao Huang, Li Jung Lin, Xioalin Nan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Protein-protein interactions (PPIs) are key molecular events to biology. However, it remains a challenge to visualize PPIs with sufficient resolution and sensitivity in cells because the resolution of conventional light microscopy is diffraction-limited to ~250 nm. By combining bimolecular fluorescence complementation (BiFC) with photoactivated localization microscopy (PALM), PPIs can be visualized in cells with single molecule sensitivity and nanometer spatial resolution. BiFC is a commonly used technique for visualizing PPIs with fluorescence contrast, which involves splitting of a fluorescent protein into two non-fluorescent fragments. PALM is a recent superresolution microscopy technique for imaging biological samples at the nanometer and single molecule scales, which uses phototransformable fluorescent probes such as photoactivatable fluorescent proteins (PA-FPs). BiFC-PALM was demonstrated by splitting PAmCherry1, a PA-FP compatible with PALM, for its monomeric nature, good single molecule brightness, high contrast ratio, and utility for stoichiometry measurements. When split between amino acids 159 and 160, PAmCherry1 can be made into a BiFC probe that reconstitutes efficiently at 37 °C with high specificity to PPIs and low non-specific reconstitution. Ras-Raf interaction is used as an example to show how BiFC-PALM helps to probe interactions at the nanometer scale and with single molecule resolution. Their diffusion can also be tracked in live cells using single molecule tracking (smt-) PALM. In this protocol, factors to consider when designing the fusion proteins for BiFC-PALM are discussed, sample preparation, image acquisition, and data analysis steps are explained, and a few exemplary results are showcased. Providing high spatial resolution, specificity, and sensitivity, BiFC-PALM is a useful tool for studying PPIs in intact biological samples.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere53154
JournalJournal of Visualized Experiments
Issue number106
StatePublished - Dec 22 2015


  • Bimolecular fluorescence complementation
  • Bioengineering
  • Issue 106
  • PAmCherry
  • Photoactivated localization microscopy
  • Protein clustering
  • Protein-protein interaction
  • Single molecule tracking
  • Superresolution microscopy
  • VbSPT

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Chemical Engineering(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)


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