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Probing the Heterogeneity of Protein Kinase Activation in Cells by Super-Resolution Microscopy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Ruobing Zhang, Gilbert O. Fruhwirth, Oana Coban, James E. Barrett, Thomas Burgoyne, Sang Hak lee, Paul Dennis Simonson, Murat Baday, Boris Kholodenko, Clare Futter, Tony Ng, Selvin Paul

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)249-257
JournalACS Nano
Issue number1
Early online date21 Oct 2016
Accepted/In press21 Oct 2016
E-pub ahead of print21 Oct 2016
Published31 Oct 2017


King's Authors


Heterogeneity of mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) activation in genetically identicalcells, which occurs in response to epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) signaling, remainspoorly understood. MAPK cascades integrate signals emanating from different EGFR spatiallocations, including the plasma membrane and endocytic compartment. We previouslyhypothesized that in EGF-stimulated cells the MAPK phosphorylation (pMAPK) level andactivity are largely determined by the spatial organization of the EGFR clusters within the cell.For experimental testing of this hypothesis, we used super-resolution microscopy to defineEGFR clusters by receptor numbers (N) and average intra-cluster distances (d). From this data,we predicted the extent of pMAPK with 85% accuracy on a cell-to-cell basis with control datareturning 54% accuracy (P<0.001). For comparison, the prediction accuracy was only 61%(P=0.382) when the diffraction-limited averaged fluorescence intensity/cluster was used. Largeclusters (N≥3) with d>50nm were most predictive for pMAPK level in cells. Electronmicroscopy revealed that these large clusters were primarily localized to the limiting membraneof multivesicular bodies (MVB). Many tighter packed dimers/multimers (d<50nm) were foundon intraluminal vesicles within MVBs, where they were unlikely to activate MAPK because ofthe physical separation. Our results suggest that cell-to-cell differences in N and d contain crucialinformation to predict EGFR-activated cellular pMAPK levels and explain pMAPKheterogeneity in isogenic cells.

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