RGB Marking – UKE Scientists Develop Useful Tool for Multicolour Clonal Cell Tracking

27 March 2011
To understand the development of cancer or the effects of cell therapies, researchers must analyse cell proliferation and motility. One research group of the Department of Stem Cell Transplantation at University Hospital Hamburg-Eppendorf (UKE) is conducting research in this field. The group is headed by the biomedical researcher Professor Boris Fehse and the biochemist Dr. Kristoffer Weber, working within the framework of the Collaborative Research Centre 841 “Liver Inflammation”. The scientists have developed a method to make cells fluoresce in all colours of the spectrum, enabling the cells to be examined much more closely than before. The new method was described for the first time in the prestigious scientific journal Nature Medicine.


Marking cells with coloured fluorescent proteins has opened up entirely new possibilities in biomedical and cell biological research. In 2008 the Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded for the development of this principle. However, only very few colours were provided by this method. The Hamburg-based researchers have now developed a method in which the cells can be stimulated to fluoresce in the basic colours red, green and blue (RGB). “By mixing the basic colours in different intensities, we can generate the entire colour spectrum of the rainbow and mark cells with the most diverse colours,” said Professor Boris Fehse. The new method of RGB marking now enables researchers to make precise statements about the biological behaviour of many cells.
The RGB colour mix is also the basis of the colour images in computer monitors or TV screens. To make the cells fluoresce, genes are transduced into the cells, which subsequently produce the respective coloured protein in the cell. The fluorescence can then be excited using a fluorescence microscope. The UKE scientists caused cells to produce all three colour substances by inserting genes for all three basic colours. Depending on the intensity of the individual colours, every colour of the spectrum can be created. Thus, many cell types can be differentiated from each other and their characteristics studied.
The new method directly benefits tumour research in the Collaborative Research Centre 841 (CRC 841). Of special interest here is the question why repair processes in liver tissue, e.g. as a result of a virus infection, can evolve into malignant cell growth. RGB marking provides a new method with which such changes can be monitored very well.
The new method can also be used in many other research fields. “The principle works both with malignant and benign cells, for example in the field of regenerative medicine,” Professor Fehse said. “RGB marking can help elucidate basic biological processes and thus aid in the development of new therapeutic approaches.”
The RGB marking method was jointly developed and brought to application by scientists from several projects of the Collaborative Research Centre “Liver Inflammation” and by researchers from the Heinrich Pette Institute for Experimental Virology. “Without the close cooperation of various disciplines, this success would hardly have been possible,” said Professor Ansgar Lohse of Medical Clinic I of the UKE and speaker of the CRC 841. This underscores the great potential of collaborative research. “By integrating basic research and clinical research in our CRC, we gain insights that will benefit patients in the foreseeable future.”