MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are small non-coding RNAs, which regulate the expression of thousands of genes; miRNAs silence gene expression from complementary mRNAs through translational repression and mRNA decay. For decades, the function of miRNAs has been studied primarily by ensemble methods, where a bulk collection of molecules is measured outside cells. Thus, the behavior of individual molecules during miRNA-mediated gene silencing, as well as their spatiotemporal regulation inside cells, remains mostly unknown. Here we report single-molecule methods to visualize each step of miRNA-mediated gene silencing in situ inside cells. Simultaneous visualization of single mRNAs, translation, and miRNA-binding revealed that miRNAs preferentially bind to translated mRNAs rather than untranslated mRNAs. Spatiotemporal analysis based on our methods uncovered that miRNAs bind to mRNAs immediately after nuclear export. Subsequently, miRNAs induced translational repression and mRNA decay within 30 and 60 min, respectively, after the binding to mRNAs. This methodology provides a framework for studying miRNA function at the single-molecule level with spatiotemporal information inside cells.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Physics and Astronomy(all)