Focal adhesions are complex multi-protein structures that mediate cell adhesion and cell migration in multicellular organisms. Most of the protein components involved in focal adhesion formation have been identified, but a major challenge remains: determination of the spatial and temporal dynamics of adhesion proteins in order to understand the molecular mechanisms of adhesion assembly, maturation, signal regulation, and disassembly. Progress in this field has been hampered by the limited resolution of fluorescence microscopy. Recent advances have led to the development of super-resolution techniques including single-molecule localization microscopy (SMLM). Here, we discuss how the application of these techniques has revealed important new insights into focal adhesion structure and dynamics, including the first description of the three-dimensional nano-architecture of focal adhesions and of the dynamic exchange of integrins in focal adhesions. Hence, SMLM has contributed to the refinement of existing models of adhesions as well as the establishment of novel models, thereby opening new research directions. With current improvements in SMLM instrumentation and analysis, it has become possible to study cellular adhesions at the single-molecule level.
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