Dynamic imaging by fluorescence correlation spectroscopy identifies diverse populations of polyglutamine oligomers formed in vivo

Monica Beam, M. Catarina Silva, Richard I. Morimoto*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Protein misfolding and aggregation are exacerbated by aging and diseases of protein conformation including neurodegeneration, metabolic diseases, and cancer. In the cellular environment, aggregates can exist as discrete entities, or heterogeneous complexes of diverse solubility and conformational state. In this study, we have examined the in vivo dynamics of aggregation using imaging methods including fluorescence microscopy, fluorescence recovery after photobleaching (FRAP), and fluorescence correlation spectroscopy (FCS), to monitor the diverse biophysical states of expanded polyglutamine (polyQ) proteins expressed in Caenorhabditis elegans. We show that monomers, oligomers and aggregates co-exist at different concentrations in young and aged animals expressing different polyQ-lengths. During aging, when aggregation and toxicity are exacerbated, FCS-based burst analysis and purified single molecule FCS detected a populational shift toward an increase in the frequency of brighter and larger oligomeric species. Regardless of age or polyQ-length, oligomers were maintained in a heterogeneous distribution that spans multiple orders of magnitude in brightness. We employed genetic suppressors that prevent polyQ aggregation and observed a reduction in visible immobile species with the persistence of heterogeneous oligomers, yet our analysis did not detect the appearance of any discrete oligomeric states associated with toxicity. These studies reveal that the reversible transition from monomers to immobile aggregates is not represented by discrete oligomeric states, but rather suggests that the process of aggregation involves a more complex pattern of molecular interactions of diverse intermediate species that can appear in vivo and contribute to aggregate formation and toxicity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)26136-26145
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Biological Chemistry
Issue number31
StatePublished - Jul 27 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Biochemistry
  • Cell Biology


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