Japanese Scientists Develop New Method for Intracellular Temperature Mapping

A team of scientists from Japan has found a way to take a close look at the temperature distribution inside living cells.

In a previous study, Dr Okabe’s team used a fluorescent polymeric thermometer and fluorescence lifetime imaging microscopy for intracellular temperature mapping. These images show temperature distribution in living COS7 cells. Scale bar – 10 μm (Kohki Okabe et al, 2012)

The team exploring the functions of mRNA – a molecule that encodes the chemical blueprint for protein synthesis – has been able to show the actual temperature inside living cells. The breakthrough may lead to a better understanding of diseases, such as cancer, which generate extraordinary intracellular heat.

Conventional temperature imaging methods lack spatial resolution and sensitivity, which means these methods are incapable of imaging extremely tiny temperature differences inside living cells.

To overcome these issues, the scientists developed a new imaging method that combines a highly sensitive thermometer with an incredibly accurate detection technique, enabling the creation of detailed intracellular temperature maps.

“Our imaging method allows us to clearly see the temperature inside living cells, and we found that the temperature differs greatly depending on the location in the cell,” said Dr Kohki Okabe of the University of Tokyo’s Laboratory of Bioanalytical Chemistry, lead author of a paper published in the Biophysical Journal.

“We discovered that the temperature difference is related to the various stages of the cell cycle,” added Dr Okabe, who with colleagues will also present the findings at the 57th Annual Meeting of the Biophysical Society, held Feb. 2-6, 2013.

The team provides a novel point of view – temperature not only regulates biological molecules, but it actually contributes to cellular functions.

“By incorporating cellular temperature mapping into the analysis of any kind of cellular event, we can achieve a deeper understanding of cellular functions,” Dr Okabe said.

“It is our hope that by using this method of temperature imaging, the pathogenesis of diseases known to generate significant heat within cells, such as cancer, can be clarified. We believe this may help lead to future cures.”

The team plans to explore how temperature contributes to cellular functions in even greater detail, as well as investigating differences in the intracellular temperatures of various living cells.

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Bibliographic information: Kohki Okabe et al. 2013. Imaging of temperature distribution in a living cell. Biophysical Journal, vol. 104, no. 2, supplement 1; p. 201a; doi: 10.1016/j.bpj.2012.11.1137