Over the last decade, there have been remarkable developments in live-cell imaging. We can now readily observe individual protein molecules within living cells and this should contribute to a systems level understanding of biological pathways. Direct observation of single fluorophores enables several types of molecular information to be gathered. Temporal and spatial trajectories enable diffusion constants and binding kinetics to be deduced, while analyses of fluorescence lifetime, intensity, polarization or spectra give chemical and conformational information about molecules in their cellular context. By recording the spatial trajectories of pairs of interacting molecules, formation of larger molecular complexes can be studied. In the future, multicolour and multiparameter imaging of single molecules in live cells will be a powerful analytical tool for systems biology. Here, we discuss measurements of single-molecule mobility and residency at the plasma membrane of live cells. Analysis of diffusional paths at the plasma membrane gives information about its physical properties and measurement of temporal trajectories enables rates of binding and dissociation to be derived. Meanwhile, close scrutiny of individual fluorophore trajectories enables ideas about molecular dimerization and oligomerization related to function to be tested directly.

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