Translation is the fundamental biological process converting mRNA information into proteins. Single molecule imaging in live cells has illuminated the dynamics of RNA transcription; however, it is not yet applicable to translation. Here we report Single molecule Imaging of NAscent PeptideS (SINAPS) to assess translation in live cells. The approach provides direct readout of initiation, elongation, and location of translation. We show that mRNAs coding for endoplasmic reticulum (ER) proteins are translated when they encounter the ER membrane. Single molecule fluorescence recovery after photobleaching provides direct measurement of elongation speed (5 AA/s). In primary neurons mRNAs are translated in proximal dendrites but repressed in distal dendrites and display “bursting” translation. This technology provides a tool to address the spatiotemporal translation mechanism of single mRNAs in living cells.
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