The work of scientists at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University, reported in Nature Methods, may eventually help explain the influence of gene expression on human disease: They report successfully visualizing single molecules of naturally occurring messenger RNA (mRNA) transcribed in living mammalian cells.
Gene expression involves transcribing a gene's DNA into mRNA molecules that then migrate from a cell's nucleus into the cytoplasm, where they serve as blueprints for protein construction. Professor Robert Singer and his colleagues generated a transgenic mouse whose gene coding for the structural protein beta actin (found in all mammalian tissues) yielded fluorescently labeled mRNA when expressed. Previously, the researchers had monitored mRNA molecules transcribed by artificial genes; their technique now promises application for monitoring the expression of any gene of interest.
"We can study beta actin RNA molecules over their life cycle in a variety of cell types and discover where they are distributed within the cell," said Timothée Lionnet, a research fellow in Singer's lab and lead author of a paper in Nature Methods describing the technique. "This has important consequences for human disease like cancer, since the way molecules of mRNA are localized within tumor cells correlates with the ability of these cells to spread, or metastasize."