Facile autofluorescence suppression enabling tracking of single viruses in live cells
Live cell fluorescence imaging is the method of choice for studying dynamic processes, such as nuclear transport, vesicular trafficking, and virus entry and egress. However, endogenous cellular autofluorescence masks a useful fluorescence signal, limiting the ability to reliably visualize low-abundance fluorescent proteins. Here, we employed synchronously amplified fluorescence image recovery (SAFIRe), which optically alters ground versus photophysical dark state populations within fluorescent proteins to modulate and selectively detect their background-free emission. Using a photoswitchable rsFastLime fluorescent protein combined with a simple illumination and image-processing scheme, we demonstrate the utility of this approach for suppressing undesirable, unmodulatable fluorescence background. Significantly, we adapted this technique to different commercial wide-field and spinning-disk confocal microscopes, obtaining >10-fold improvements in signal to background. SAFIRe allowed visualization of rsFastLime targeted to mitochondria by efficiently suppressing endogenous autofluorescence or overexpressed cytosolic unmodulatable EGFP. Suppression of the overlapping EGFP signal provided a means to perform multiplexed imaging of rsFastLime and spectrally overlapping fluorophores. Importantly, we used SAFIRe to reliably visualize and track single rsFastLime-labeled HIV-1 particles in living cells exhibiting high and uneven autofluorescence signals. Time-lapse SAFIRe imaging can be performed for an extended period of time to visualize HIV-1 entry into cells. SAFIRe should be broadly applicable for imaging live cell dynamics with commercial microscopes, even in strongly autofluorescent cells or cells expressing spectrally overlapping fluorescent proteins.