SMTracker: a tool for quantitative analysis, exploration and visualization of single-molecule tracking data reveals highly dynamic binding of B. subtilis global repressor AbrB throughout the genome

Thomas C. Rösch, Luis M. Oviedo-Bocanegra, Georg Fritz, Peter L. Graumann

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20 Citations (Scopus)


Single-particle (molecule) tracking (SPT/SMT) is a powerful method to study dynamic processes in living cells at high spatial and temporal resolution. Even though SMT is becoming a widely used method in bacterial cell biology, there is no program employing different analytical tools for the quantitative evaluation of tracking data. We developed SMTracker, a MATLAB-based graphical user interface (GUI) for automatically quantifying, visualizing and managing SMT data via five interactive panels, allowing the user to interactively explore tracking data from several conditions, movies and cells on a track-by-track basis. Diffusion constants are calculated a) by a Gaussian mixture model (GMM) panel, analyzing the distribution of positional displacements in x- and y-direction using a multi-state diffusion model (e.g. DNA-bound vs. freely diffusing molecules), and inferring the diffusion constants and relative fraction of molecules in each state, or b) by square displacement analysis (SQD), using the cumulative probability distribution of square displacements to estimate the diffusion constants and relative fractions of up to three diffusive states, or c) through mean-squared displacement (MSD) analyses, allowing the discrimination between Brownian, sub- or superdiffusive behavior. A spatial distribution analysis (SDA) panel analyzes the subcellular localization of molecules, summarizing the localization of trajectories in 2D- heat maps. Using SMTracker, we show that the global transcriptional repressor AbrB performs highly dynamic binding throughout the Bacillus subtilis genome, with short dwell times that indicate high on/off rates in vivo. While about a third of AbrB molecules are in a DNA-bound state, 40% diffuse through the chromosome, and the remaining molecules freely diffuse through the cells. AbrB also forms one or two regions of high intensity binding on the nucleoids, similar to the global gene silencer H-NS in Escherichia coli, indicating that AbrB may also confer a structural function in genome organization.

Original languageEnglish
Article number15747
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 24 Oct 2018
Externally publishedYes


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