Use of single molecule fluorescent in situ hybridization (SM-FISH) to quantify and localize mRNAs in murine oocytes

Kelsey R. Timme, Jennifer R. Wood

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Current methods routinely used to quantify mRNA in oocytes and embryos include digital reverse-transcription polymerase chain reaction (dPCR), quantitative, real-time RT-PCR (RT-qPCR) and RNA sequencing. When these techniques are performed using a single oocyte or embryo, low-copy mRNAs are not reliably detected. To overcome this problem, oocytes or embryos can be pooled together for analysis; however, this often leads to high variability amongst samples. In this protocol, we describe the use of fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) using branched DNA chemistry. This technique identifies the spatial pattern of mRNAs in individual cells. When the technique is coupled with Spot Finding and Tracking computer software, the abundance of mRNAs in the cell can also be quantified. Using this technique, there is reduced variability within an experimental group and fewer oocytes and embryos are required to detect significant differences between experimental groups. Commercially available branched-DNA SM-FISH kits have been optimized to detect mRNAs in sectioned tissues or adherent cells on slides. However, oocytes do not effectively adhere to slides and some reagents in the kit were too harsh resulting in oocyte lysis. To prevent this lysis, several modifications were made to the FISH kit. Specifically, oocyte permeabilization and wash buffers designed for the immunofluorescence of oocytes and embryos replaced the proprietary buffers. The permeabilization, washes, and incubations with probes and amplifier were performed in 6-well plates and oocytes were placed on slides at the end of the protocol using mounting media. These modifications were able to overcome the limitations of the commercially available kit, in particular, the oocyte lysis. To accurately and reproducibly count the number of mRNAs in individual oocytes, computer software was used. Together, this protocol represents an alternative to PCR and sequencing to compare the expression of specific transcripts in single cells.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere59414
JournalJournal of Visualized Experiments
Issue number146
StatePublished - Apr 2019


  • Branched DNA
  • Fluorescence in situ hybridization
  • Genetics
  • Issue 146
  • MRNA localization
  • MRNA quantification
  • Non-adherent cells
  • Oocyte

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Chemical Engineering(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)


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