Human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) particles assemble at the plasma membrane, which is lined by a dense network of filamentous actin (F-actin). Large amounts of actin have been detected in HIV-1 virions, proposed to be incorporated by interactions with the nucleocapsid domain of the viral polyprotein Gag. Previous studies addressing the role of F-actin in HIV-1 particle formation using F-actin-interfering drugs did not yield consistent results. Filamentous structures pointing toward nascent HIV-1 budding sites, detected by cryo-electron tomography and atomic force microscopy, prompted us to revisit the role of F-actin in HIV-1 assembly by live-cell microscopy. HeLa cells coexpressing HIV-1 carrying fluorescently labeled Gag and a labeled F-actin-binding peptide were imaged by live-cell total internal reflection fluorescence microscopy (TIR-FM). Computational analysis of image series did not reveal characteristic patterns of F-actin in the vicinity of viral budding sites. Furthermore, no transient recruitment of F-actin during bud formation was detected by monitoring fluorescence intensity changes at nascent HIV-1 assembly sites. The chosen approach allowed us to measure the effect of F-actin-interfering drugs on the assembly of individual virions in parallel with monitoring changes in the F-actin network of the respective cell. Treatment of cells with latrunculin did not affect the efficiency and dynamics of Gag assembly under conditions resulting in the disruption of F-actin filaments. Normal assembly rates were also observed upon transient stabilization of F-actin by short-term treatment with jasplakinolide. Taken together, these findings indicate that actin filament dynamics are dispensable for HIV-1 Gag assembly at the plasma membrane of HeLa cells.
IMPORTANCE HIV-1 particles assemble at the plasma membrane of virus-producing cells. This membrane is lined by a dense network of actin filaments that might either present a physical obstacle to the formation of virus particles or generate force promoting the assembly process. Drug-mediated interference with the actin cytoskeleton showed different results for the formation of retroviral particles in different studies, likely due to general effects on the cell upon prolonged drug treatment. Here, we characterized the effect of actin-interfering compounds on the HIV-1 assembly process by direct observation of virus formation in live cells, which allowed us to measure assembly rate constants directly upon drug addition. Virus assembly proceeded with normal rates when actin filaments were either disrupted or stabilized. Taken together with the absence of characteristic actin filament patterns at viral budding sites in our analyses, this indicates that the actin network is dispensable for HIV-1 assembly.
Characterizing the activating and inhibiting effect of protein-protein interactions (PPI) is fundamental to gain insight into the complex signaling system of a human cell. A plethora of methods has been suggested to infer PPI from data on a large scale, but none of them is able to characterize the effect of this interaction. Here, we present a novel computational development that employs mitotic phenotypes of a genome-wide RNAi knockdown screen and enables identifying the activating and inhibiting effects of PPIs. Exemplarily, we applied our technique to a knockdown screen of HeLa cells cultivated at standard conditions. Using a machine learning approach, we obtained high accuracy (82% AUC of the receiver operating characteristics) by cross-validation using 6,870 known activating and inhibiting PPIs as gold standard. We predicted de novo unknown activating and inhibiting effects for 1,954 PPIs in HeLa cells covering the ten major signaling pathways of the Kyoto Encyclopedia of Genes and Genomes, and made these predictions publicly available in a database. We finally demonstrate that the predicted effects can be used to cluster knockdown genes of similar biological processes in coherent subgroups. The characterization of the activating or inhibiting effect of individual PPIs opens up new perspectives for the interpretation of large datasets of PPIs and thus considerably increases the value of PPIs as an integrated resource for studying the detailed function of signaling pathways of the cellular system of interest.
Mathematical models which aim to describe cellular signaling start from constructing an interaction network of effectors, mediators and their effected target proteins. Several developments came up making it easier to put these links together. Besides tediously assembling knowledge from textbooks and research articles, experimental high-throughput methods were established like Yeast-2-Hybrid assays or Fluorescence Emission Resonance Transfer. However, these methods do not elucidate the effect of such interactions. We aimed inferring if an interaction in a specific cellular context is rather activating or inhibiting. We used cellular phenotypes of a genome-wide RNAi knockdown screen of live cells to identify such activating and inhibiting effects of protein interactions. The rationale behind it is that activating protein interactions should lead to similar phenotypes when their respective genes are knocked down, whereas an inhibiting protein interaction should lead to dissimilar phenotypes. Exemplarily, we applied our method to a phenotype screen of perturbed HeLa cells. Our predictions effectively reproduced textbook relationships between proteins or domains when comparing the predicted effects with pairs of effectors, receptors, kinases, phosphatases and of general signalling modules. The presented computational approach is generic and may enable elucidating the effects of studied interactions also of other cellular systems under more specific conditions.
Particle tracking is of key importance for quantitative analysis of intracellular dynamic processes from time-lapse microscopy image data. Since manually detecting and following large numbers of individual particles is not feasible, automated computational methods have been developed for these tasks by many groups. Aiming to perform an objective comparison of methods, we gathered the community and organized, for the first time, an open competition, in which participating teams applied their own methods independently to a commonly defined data set including diverse scenarios. Performance was assessed using commonly defined measures. Although no single method performed best across all scenarios, the results revealed clear differences between the various approaches, leading to important practical conclusions for users and developers.
Native-MR angiography (N-MRA) is considered an imaging alternative to contrast enhanced MR angiography (CE-MRA) for patients with renal insufficiency. Lower intraluminal contrast in N-MRA often leads to failure of the segmentation process in commercial algorithms. This study introduces an in-house 3D model-based segmentation approach used to compare both sequences by automatic 3D lumen segmentation, allowing for evaluation of differences of aortic lumen diameters as well as differences in length comparing both acquisition techniques at every possible location.
Methods and materials
Sixteen healthy volunteers underwent 1.5-T-MR Angiography (MRA). For each volunteer, two different MR sequences were performed, CE-MRA: gradient echo Turbo FLASH sequence and N-MRA: respiratory-and-cardiac-gated, T2-weighted 3D SSFP. Datasets were segmented using a 3D model-based ellipse-fitting approach with a single seed point placed manually above the celiac trunk. The segmented volumes were manually cropped from left subclavian artery to celiac trunk to avoid error due to side branches. Diameters, volumes and centerline length were computed for intraindividual comparison. For statistical analysis the Wilcoxon-Signed-Ranked-Test was used.
Average centerline length obtained based on N-MRA was 239.0±23.4 mm compared to 238.6±23.5 mm for CE-MRA without significant difference (P=0.877). Average maximum diameter obtained based on N-MRA was 25.7±3.3 mm compared to 24.1±3.2 mm for CE-MRA (P<0.001). In agreement with the difference in diameters, volumes obtained based on N-MRA (100.1±35.4 cm3) were consistently and significantly larger compared to CE-MRA (89.2±30.0 cm3) (P<0.001).
3D morphometry shows highly similar centerline lengths for N-MRA and CE-MRA, but systematically higher diameters and volumes for N-MRA.
Magnetic resonance angiography; aorta; thoracic; automatic data processing
Motivation: Automatic tracking of cells in multidimensional time-lapse fluorescence microscopy is an important task in many biomedical applications. A novel framework for objective evaluation of cell tracking algorithms has been established under the auspices of the IEEE International Symposium on Biomedical Imaging 2013 Cell Tracking Challenge. In this article, we present the logistics, datasets, methods and results of the challenge and lay down the principles for future uses of this benchmark.
Results: The main contributions of the challenge include the creation of a comprehensive video dataset repository and the definition of objective measures for comparison and ranking of the algorithms. With this benchmark, six algorithms covering a variety of segmentation and tracking paradigms have been compared and ranked based on their performance on both synthetic and real datasets. Given the diversity of the datasets, we do not declare a single winner of the challenge. Instead, we present and discuss the results for each individual dataset separately.
Availability and implementation: The challenge Web site (http://www.codesolorzano.com/celltrackingchallenge) provides access to the training and competition datasets, along with the ground truth of the training videos. It also provides access to Windows and Linux executable files of the evaluation software and most of the algorithms that competed in the challenge.
Supplementary data are available at Bioinformatics online.
Virus infection-induced global protein synthesis suppression is linked to assembly of stress granules (SGs), cytosolic aggregates of stalled translation preinitiation complexes. To study long-term stress responses, we developed an imaging approach for extended observation and analysis of SG dynamics during persistent hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection. In combination with type 1 interferon, HCV infection induces highly dynamic assembly/disassembly of cytoplasmic SGs, concomitant with phases of active and stalled translation, delayed cell division, and prolonged cell survival. Double-stranded RNA (dsRNA), independent of viral replication, is sufficient to trigger these oscillations. Translation initiation factor eIF2α phosphorylation by protein kinase R mediates SG formation and translation arrest. This is antagonized by the upregulation of GADD34, the regulatory subunit of protein phosphatase 1 dephosphorylating eIF2α. Stress response oscillation is a general mechanism to prevent long-lasting translation repression and a conserved host cell reaction to multiple RNA viruses, which HCV may exploit to establish persistence.
Cutaneous regeneration utilizes paracrine feedback mechanisms to fine-tune the regulation of epidermal keratinocyte proliferation and migration. However, it is unknown how fibroblast-derived hepatocyte growth factor (HGF) affects these mutually exclusive processes in distinct cell populations. We here show that HGF stimulates the expression and phosphorylation of the microtubule-destabilizing factor stathmin in primary human keratinocytes. Quantitative single cell- and cell population-based analyses revealed that basal stathmin levels are important for the migratory ability of keratinocytes in vitro; however, its expression is moderately induced in the migration tongue of mouse skin or organotypic multi-layered keratinocyte 3D cultures after full-thickness wounding. In contrast, clearly elevated stathmin expression is detectable in hyperproliferative epidermal areas. In vitro, stathmin silencing significantly reduced keratinocyte proliferation. Automated quantitative and time-resolved analyses in organotypic cocultures demonstrated a high correlation between Stathmin/phospho-Stathmin and Ki67 positivity in epidermal regions with proliferative activity. Thus, activation of stathmin may stimulate keratinocyte proliferation, while basal stathmin levels are sufficient for keratinocyte migration during cutaneous regeneration.
The existence and nature of an active chromosome segregation apparatus in bacteria has been a long-standing debate. A novel Brownian ratchet-type mechanism of chromosome segregation mediated by the Min system is identified in E. coli.
Numerical simulations show that entropy alone is not sufficient to complete segregation of bacterial chromosomes.Chromosome segregation can be enhanced by a polar gradient of DNA tethering sites on the membrane.The cell-division regulator MinD forms a polar gradient on the membrane and binds DNA in an ATP-dependent manner.The bacterial Min system coordinates cell division and chromosome segregation.
The mechanisms underlying chromosome segregation in prokaryotes remain a subject of debate and no unifying view has yet emerged. Given that the initial disentanglement of duplicated chromosomes could be achieved by purely entropic forces, even the requirement of an active prokaryotic segregation machinery has been questioned. Using computer simulations, we show that entropic forces alone are not sufficient to achieve and maintain full separation of chromosomes. This is, however, possible by assuming repeated binding of chromosomes along a gradient of membrane-associated tethering sites toward the poles. We propose that, in Escherichia coli, such a gradient of membrane tethering sites may be provided by the oscillatory Min system, otherwise known for its role in selecting the cell division site. Consistent with this hypothesis, we demonstrate that MinD binds to DNA and tethers it to the membrane in an ATP-dependent manner. Taken together, our combined theoretical and experimental results suggest the existence of a novel mechanism of chromosome segregation based on the Min system, further highlighting the importance of active segregation of chromosomes in prokaryotic cell biology.
computer simulations; chromosome segregation; DNA binding; MinD; Min system
The importance of microtubules (MTs) in axon outgrowth is studied using automated tracking of MTs and actin in live neurons. MT advance in the growth cone and axon outgrowth are correlated, and the MT-binding protein XCLASP1 promotes both. In addition to regulation of MTs, XCLASP1 is necessary for protrusive actin architecture in lamellipodia.
Dynamic microtubules (MTs) are required for neuronal guidance, in which axons extend directionally toward their target tissues. We found that depletion of the MT-binding protein Xenopus cytoplasmic linker–associated protein 1 (XCLASP1) or treatment with the MT drug Taxol reduced axon outgrowth in spinal cord neurons. To quantify the dynamic distribution of MTs in axons, we developed an automated algorithm to detect and track MT plus ends that have been fluorescently labeled by end-binding protein 3 (EB3). XCLASP1 depletion reduced MT advance rates in neuronal growth cones, very much like treatment with Taxol, demonstrating a potential link between MT dynamics in the growth cone and axon extension. Automatic tracking of EB3 comets in different compartments revealed that MTs increasingly slowed as they passed from the axon shaft into the growth cone and filopodia. We used speckle microscopy to demonstrate that MTs experience retrograde flow at the leading edge. Microtubule advance in growth cone and filopodia was strongly reduced in XCLASP1-depleted axons as compared with control axons, but actin retrograde flow remained unchanged. Instead, we found that XCLASP1-depleted growth cones lacked lamellipodial actin organization characteristic of protrusion. Lamellipodial architecture depended on XCLASP1 and its capacity to associate with MTs, highlighting the importance of XCLASP1 in actin–microtubule interactions.
We applied fluorescence microscopy based quantitative assays to living cells to identify
regulators of ER to Golgi trafficking and/or Golgi complex maintenance. We first validated an
automated procedure to identify factors, which influence Golgi to ER re-localization of GalT-CFP
after brefeldin A (BFA) addition and/or wash-out. We then tested 14 proteins that localize to the ER
and/or Golgi complex when over-expressed for a role in ER to Golgi trafficking. Nine of them
interfered with the rate of BFA induced redistribution of GalT-CFP from the Golgi complex to the ER,
6 of them interfered with GalT-CFP redistribution from the ER to a juxtanuclear region (i.e., Golgi
complex) after BFA wash-out, and 6 of them were positive effectors in both assays. Notably, our live
cell approach captures regulator function in ER to Golgi trafficking, that were missed in previous
fixed cell assays; as well as assigns putative roles for other less characterized proteins.
Moreover, we show that our assays can be extended to RNAi and chemical screens.
Brefeldin A (BFA); GalT; ER to Golgi trafficking; YIPF; GOT1B; USE1; SACM1L
miRNA cluster miR-17-92 is known as oncomir-1 due to its potent oncogenic function. miR-17-92 is a polycistronic cluster that encodes 6 miRNAs, and can both facilitate and inhibit cell proliferation. Known targets of miRNAs encoded by this cluster are largely regulators of cell cycle progression and apoptosis. Here, we show that miRNAs encoded by this cluster and sharing the seed sequence of miR-17 exert their influence on one of the most essential cellular processes – endocytic trafficking. By mRNA expression analysis we identified that regulation of endocytic trafficking by miR-17 can potentially be achieved by targeting of a number of trafficking regulators. We have thoroughly validated TBC1D2/Armus, a GAP of Rab7 GTPase, as a novel target of miR-17. Our study reveals regulation of endocytic trafficking as a novel function of miR-17, which might act cooperatively with other functions of miR-17 and related miRNAs in health and disease.
Neuroblastoma is the most common extra-cranial solid tumor of early childhood. Standard therapies are not effective in case of poor prognosis and chemotherapy resistance. To improve drug therapy, it is imperative to discover new targets that play a substantial role in tumorigenesis of neuroblastoma. The mitotic machinery is an attractive target for therapeutic interventions and inhibitors can be developed to target mitotic entry, spindle apparatus, spindle activation checkpoint, and mitotic exit. We present an elaborate analysis pipeline to determine cancer specific therapeutic targets by first performing a focused gene expression analysis to select genes followed by a gene knockdown screening assay of live cells. We interrogated gene expression studies of neuroblastoma tumors and selected 240 genes relevant for tumorigenesis and cell cycle. With these genes we performed time-lapse screening of gene knockdowns in neuroblastoma cells. We classified cellular phenotypes and used the temporal context of the perturbation effect to determine the sequence of events, particularly the mitotic entry preceding cell death. Based upon this phenotype kinetics from the gene knockdown screening, we inferred dynamic gene functions in mitosis and cell proliferation. We identified six genes (DLGAP5, DSCC1, SMO, SNRPD1, SSBP1, and UBE2C) with a vital role in mitosis and these are promising therapeutic targets for neuroblastoma. Images and movies of every time point of all screened genes are available at https://ichip.bioquant.uni-heidelberg.de.
Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is a major causative agent of chronic liver disease in humans. To gain insight into host factor requirements for HCV replication we performed a siRNA screen of the human kinome and identified 13 different kinases, including phosphatidylinositol-4 kinase III alpha (PI4KIIIα) as required for HCV replication. Consistent with elevated levels of the PI4KIIIα product phosphatidylinositol-4-phosphate (PI4P) detected in HCV infected cultured hepatocytes and liver tissue from chronic hepatitis C patients, the enzymatic activity of PI4KIIIα was critical for HCV replication. Viral nonstructural protein 5A (NS5A) was found to interact with PI4KIIIα and stimulate its kinase activity. The absence of PI4KIIIα activity induced a dramatic change in the ultrastructural morphology of the membranous HCV replication complex. Our analysis suggests that the direct activation of a lipid kinase by HCV NS5A contributes critically to the integrity of the membranous viral replication complex.
The observed motion of subcellular particles in fluorescence microscopy image sequences of live cells is generally a superposition of the motion and deformation of the cell and the motion of the particles. Decoupling the two types of movements to enable accurate classification of the particle motion requires the application of registration algorithms. We have developed an intensity-based approach for nonrigid registration of multi-channel microscopy image sequences of cell nuclei. First, based on 3-D synthetic images we demonstrate that cell nucleus deformations change the observed motion types of particles and that our approach allows to recover the original motion. Second, we have successfully applied our approach to register 2-D and 3-D real microscopy image sequences. A quantitative experimental comparison with previous approaches for nonrigid registration of cell microscopy has also been performed.
Biomedical image processing; image sequence analysis; microscopy; registration
High-content, high-throughput RNA interference (RNAi) offers unprecedented possibilities to elucidate gene function and involvement in biological processes. Microscopy based screening allows phenotypic observations at the level of individual cells. It was recently shown that a cell's population context significantly influences results. However, standard analysis methods for cellular screens do not currently take individual cell data into account unless this is important for the phenotype of interest, i.e. when studying cell morphology.
We present a method that normalizes and statistically scores microscopy based RNAi screens, exploiting individual cell information of hundreds of cells per knockdown. Each cell's individual population context is employed in normalization. We present results on two infection screens for hepatitis C and dengue virus, both showing considerable effects on observed phenotypes due to population context. In addition, we show on a non-virus screen that these effects can be found also in RNAi data in the absence of any virus. Using our approach to normalize against these effects we achieve improved performance in comparison to an analysis without this normalization and hit scoring strategy. Furthermore, our approach results in the identification of considerably more significantly enriched pathways in hepatitis C virus replication than using a standard analysis approach.
Using a cell-based analysis and normalization for population context, we achieve improved sensitivity and specificity not only on a individual protein level, but especially also on a pathway level. This leads to the identification of new host dependency factors of the hepatitis C and dengue viruses and higher reproducibility of results.
Motivation: Detecting human proteins that are involved in virus entry and replication is facilitated by modern high-throughput RNAi screening technology. However, hit lists from different laboratories have shown only little consistency. This may be caused by not only experimental discrepancies, but also not fully explored possibilities of the data analysis. We wanted to improve reliability of such screens by combining a population analysis of infected cells with an established dye intensity readout.
Results: Viral infection is mainly spread by cell–cell contacts and clustering of infected cells can be observed during spreading of the infection in situ and in vivo. We employed this clustering feature to define knockdowns which harm viral infection efficiency of human Hepatitis C Virus. Images of knocked down cells for 719 human kinase genes were analyzed with an established point pattern analysis method (Ripley's K-function) to detect knockdowns in which virally infected cells did not show any clustering and therefore were hindered to spread their infection to their neighboring cells. The results were compared with a statistical analysis using a common intensity readout of the GFP-expressing viruses and a luciferase-based secondary screen yielding five promising host factors which may suit as potential targets for drug therapy.
Conclusion: We report of an alternative method for high-throughput imaging methods to detect host factors being relevant for the infection efficiency of viruses. The method is generic and has the potential to be used for a large variety of different viruses and treatments being screened by imaging techniques.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com
Supplementary information: Supplementary data are available at Bioinformatics online.
Assembly and release of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) occur at the plasma membrane of infected cells and are driven by the Gag polyprotein. Previous studies analyzed viral morphogenesis using biochemical methods and static images, while dynamic and kinetic information has been lacking until very recently. Using a combination of wide-field and total internal reflection fluorescence microscopy, we have investigated the assembly and release of fluorescently labeled HIV-1 at the plasma membrane of living cells with high time resolution. Gag assembled into discrete clusters corresponding to single virions. Formation of multiple particles from the same site was rarely observed. Using a photoconvertible fluorescent protein fused to Gag, we determined that assembly was nucleated preferentially by Gag molecules that had recently attached to the plasma membrane or arrived directly from the cytosol. Both membrane-bound and cytosol derived Gag polyproteins contributed to the growing bud. After their initial appearance, assembly sites accumulated at the plasma membrane of individual cells over 1–2 hours. Assembly kinetics were rapid: the number of Gag molecules at a budding site increased, following a saturating exponential with a rate constant of ∼5×10−3 s−1, corresponding to 8–9 min for 90% completion of assembly for a single virion. Release of extracellular particles was observed at ∼1,500±700 s after the onset of assembly. The ability of the virus to recruit components of the cellular ESCRT machinery or to undergo proteolytic maturation, or the absence of Vpu did not significantly alter the assembly kinetics.
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) particles are formed and released at the plasma membrane of the infected cell. Here, we analyzed the dynamics of HIV assembly and release making use of fluorescently labeled HIV structural proteins. We determined that assembly of the viral protein shell occurs within ∼8–9 min after nucleation of an assembly site and virus particles are formed individually and not from large patches. Virion release was observed ∼25 min after nucleation of the assembly site. Assembly of the Gag shell thus appears to constitute only a minor part of the period required for particle formation indicating that traversing the membrane and fission are the rate-limiting stages in virion formation. Using a photoconvertible label in the viral Gag protein, we established that the Gag molecules driving nucleation of a new assembly site and in bud growth are recruited preferentially from the cytosolic pool of Gag molecules and from recently membrane-attached Gag. No intracellular assembly or vesicular trafficking of Gag was observed. The described results add essential dynamic information to our picture of virus release and provide an experimental basis for interfering with this stage of virus replication.
Most retroviruses enter their host cells by fusing the viral envelope with the plasma membrane. Although the protein machinery promoting fusion has been characterized extensively, the dynamics of the process are largely unknown.
We generated human immunodeficiency virus-1 (HIV-1) particles pseudotyped with the envelope (Env) protein of ecotropic murine leukemia virus eMLV to study retrovirus entry at the plasma membrane using live-cell microscopy. This Env protein mediates highly efficient pH independent fusion at the cell surface and can be functionally tagged with a fluorescent protein. To detect fusion events, double labeled particles carrying one fluorophor in Env and the other in the matrix (MA) domain of Gag were generated and characterized. Fusion events were defined as loss of Env signal after virus-cell contact. Single particle tracking of >20,000 individual traces in two color channels recorded 28 events of color separation, where particles lost the Env protein, with the MA layer remaining stable at least for a short period. Fourty-five events were detected where both colors were lost simultaneously. Importantly, the first type of event was never observed when particles were pseudotyped with a non-fusogenic Env.
These results reveal rapid retroviral fusion at the plasma membrane and permit studies of the immediate post-fusion events.
GFP-fusion proteins and immunostaining are methods broadly applied to investigate the three-dimensional organization of cells and cell nuclei, the latter often studied in addition by fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH). Direct comparisons of these detection methods are scarce, however.
We provide a quantitative comparison of all three approaches. We make use of a cell line that contains a transgene array of lac operator repeats which are detected by GFP-lac repressor fusion proteins. Thus we can detect the same structure in individual cells by GFP fluorescence, by antibodies against GFP and by FISH with a probe against the transgene array. Anti-GFP antibody detection was repeated after FISH. Our results show that while all four signals obtained from a transgene array generally showed qualitative and quantitative similarity, they also differed in details.
Each of the tested methods revealed particular strengths and weaknesses, which should be considered when interpreting respective experimental results. Despite the required denaturation step, FISH signals in structurally preserved cells show a surprising similarity to signals generated before denaturation.
Techniques for investigation of exogenous small interfering RNA (siRNA) after penetration of the cell are of substantial interest to the development of efficient transfection methods as well as to potential medical formulations of siRNA. A FRET-based visualization method including the commonplace dye labels fluorescein and tetramethylrhodamin (TMR) on opposing strands of siRNA was found compatible with RNA interference (RNAi). Investigation of spectral properties of three labelled siRNAs with differential FRET efficiencies in the cuvette, including pH dependence and FRET efficiency in lipophilic environments, identified the ratio of red and green fluorescence (R/G-ratio) as a sensitive parameter, which reliably identifies samples containing >90% un-degraded siRNA. Spectral imaging of siRNAs microinjected into cells showed emission spectra indistinguishable from those measured in the cuvette. These were used to establish a calibration curve for assessing the degradation state of siRNA in volume elements inside cells. An algorithm, applied to fluorescence images recorded in standard green and red fluorescence channels, produces R/G-ratio images of high spatial resolution, identifying volume elements in the cell with high populations of intact siRNA with high fidelity. To demonstrate the usefulness of this technique, the movement of intact siRNA molecules are observed after introduction into the cytosol by microinjection, standard transfection and lipofection with liposomes.