Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

Stoichiometry of molecular complexes at adhesions in living cells.

PMID 19168634


We describe a method to detect molecular complexes and measure their stoichiometry in living cells from simultaneous fluctuations of the fluorescence intensity in two image channels, each detecting a different kind of protein. The number and brightness (N&B) analysis, namely, the use of the ratio between the variance and the average intensity to obtain the brightness of molecules, is extended to the cross-variance of the intensity fluctuations in two channels. We apply the cross-variance method to determine the stoichiometry of complexes containing paxillin and vinculin or focal adhesion kinase (FAK) in disassembling adhesions in mouse embryo fibroblasts expressing FAK, vinculin, and paxillin-tagged with EGFP and mCherry. We found no complexes of these proteins in the cytoplasm away from the adhesions. However, at the adhesions, large aggregates leave, forming a hole, during their disassembly. This hole shows cross-correlation between FAK and paxillin and vinculin and paxillin. From the amplitude of the correlated fluctuations we determine the composition of the aggregates leaving the adhesions. These aggregates disassemble rapidly in the cytoplasm because large complexes are found only in very close proximity to the adhesions or at their borders.