Public Health Research Institute, New Jersey Medical School, University of Medicine & Dentistry of New Jersey, Newark, New Jersey, USA.
Powerful methods now allow the imaging of specific mRNAs in living cells. These methods enlist fluorescent proteins to illuminate mRNAs, use labeled oligonucleotide probes and exploit aptamers that render organic dyes fluorescent. The intracellular dynamics of mRNA synthesis, transport and localization can be analyzed at higher temporal resolution with these methods than has been possible with traditional fixed-cell or biochemical approaches. These methods have also been adopted to visualize and track single mRNA molecules in real time. This review explores the promises and limitations of these methods.