Parallel visualization of multiple protein complexes in individual cells in tumor tissue.
Cellular functions are regulated and executed by complex protein interaction networks. Accordingly, it is essential to understand the interplay between proteins in determining the activity status of signaling cascades. New methods are therefore required to provide information on different protein interaction events at the single cell level in heterogeneous cell populations such as in tissue sections. Here, we describe a multiplex proximity ligation assay for simultaneous visualization of multiple protein complexes in situ. The assay is an enhancement of the original proximity ligation assay, and it is based on using proximity probes labeled with unique tag sequences that can be used to read out which probes, from a pool of probes, have bound a certain protein complex. Using this approach, it is possible to gain information on the constituents of different protein complexes, the subcellular location of the complexes, and how the balance between different complex constituents can change between normal and malignant cells, for example. As a proof of concept, we used the assay to simultaneously visualize multiple protein complexes involving EGFR, HER2, and HER3 homo- and heterodimers on a single-cell level in breast cancer tissue sections. The ability to study several protein complex formations concurrently at single cell resolution could be of great potential for a systems understanding, paving the way for improved disease diagnostics and possibilities for drug development.