Understanding cell fate control by continuous single cell quantification

Dirk Loeffler and Timm Schroeder


Cells and the molecular processes underlying their behavior are highly dynamic. Understanding these dynamic biological processes requires non-invasive, continuous quantitative single-cell observations, instead of population based average or single-cell snap-shot analysis. Ideally, single cell dynamics are measured long-term in vivo. However, despite progress in recent years, technical limitations still prevent such studies. In vitro studies on the other hand have proven to be useful to answer long-standing questions. Although technically still demanding, long-term single-cell imaging and tracking in vitro has become a valuable tool to elucidate dynamic molecular processes and mechanisms, especially in rare and heterogeneous populations. Here we review how continuous quantitative single-cell imaging of hematopoietic cells has been used to solve decades-long controversies. Because aberrant cell fate decisions are at the heart of tissue degeneration and disease, we argue that studying their molecular dynamics using quantitative single cell imaging will improve our understanding also of these processes and lead to new strategies for therapies.

  • Submitted September 5, 2018.
  • Accepted October 20, 2018.