Super resolution microscope brings cells to life

01 November 2012

Steffen Lawo, Monica Hasegan and Gagan Gupta in Dr Laurence Pelletier’s laboratory at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto are using state-of-the-art microscopes to view the inner workings of the cell. This is one of the first studies using super resolution imaging to determine the organizational structure of a centrosome, the part of the cell that controls cell growth, a fundamental process in cancer initiation.

“This study paves the way for cell biologists around the world. The technology and methods we’re using will help us better understand many cellular activities – in normal and cancer cells,” explains Dr Pelletier.

Tiny structures known as centrosomes help to segregate genetic material during cell division. Dysfunctional centrosomes can cause a loss or gain of chromosomes, a condition that can lead to cancer.

Mitosis, or cell division, refers to the process of a single cell dividing to form two identical “daughter” cells. During mitosis, genetic material and other cellular components are carefully separated between the daughter cells.

Centrosomes are made up of hundreds of proteins but they are so small that they are difficult to detect using standard light microscopes. Dr Pelletier’s research team has been able to view centrosomes using new super resolution imaging methods. These super resolution microscopes almost triple the amount of detail that could be seen previously with light microscopes, allowing scientists to see how proteins interact to form structures within the cell.

“Using these microscopes, we can now begin to understand areas in the cell which we used to think were disorganized or featureless. Conventional light microscopes or electron microscopes never gave us the resolution power we needed to look at the specific organization of individual proteins in the cell,” says Pelletier.

The group’s study uses 3D imaging along with mathematical algorithms to build a model of the centrosome proteins. This work demonstrates the highly organized structure of the centrosome and will help us understand what goes wrong with centrosomes in the development of cancer.

The study was released on- and is published in the November 2012 issue of the journal Nature Cell Biology.

Dr Laurence Pelletier

(credit photo : Caroline Gauthier)


Dr Laurence Pelletier