Imaging Single mRNA Molecules in Mammalian Cells Using an Optimized MS2-MCP System

  • Maria Vera
  • Evelina Tutucci
  • Robert H. SingerEmail author
Part of the Methods in Molecular Biology book series (MIMB, volume 2038)


Visualization of single mRNAs in their native cellular environment provides key information to study gene expression regulation. This fundamental biological question triggered the development of the MS2-MCP (MS2-Capsid Protein) system to tag mRNAs and image their life cycle using widefield fluorescence microscopy. The last two decades have evolved toward improving the qualitative and quantitative characteristics of the MS2-MCP system. Here, we provide a protocol to use the latest versions, MS2V6 and MS2V7, to tag and visualize mRNAs in mammalian cells in culture. The motivation behind engineering MS2V6 and MS2V7 was to overcome a degradation caveat observed in S. cerevisiae with the previous MS2-MCP systems. While for yeast we recommend the use of MS2V6, we found that for live-cell imaging experiments in mammalian cells, the MS2V7 has improved reporter properties.

Key words

Single-molecule imaging MS2 system smFISH MS2V6 MS2V7 Quantitative fluorescence microscopy Short-lived mRNAs Single cell 



The authors are grateful to Xihua Meng and Lydia Tesfa (Grant P30CA013330) for technical help. Support was provided by National Institutes of Health Grants R01GM057071 to R.H.S. and R21AG055083 to M.V. and by the Swiss National Science Foundation for Fellowships P2GEP3_155692 and P300PA_164717 to E.T.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Maria Vera
    • 3
  • Evelina Tutucci
    • 1
  • Robert H. Singer
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of Anatomy and Structural BiologyAlbert Einstein College of MedicineBronxUSA
  2. 2.Janelia Research Campus of the HHMIAshburnUSA
  3. 3.Department of BiochemistryMcGill UniversityCanada

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