There is a dizzying array of fluorescent probes now commercially available to monitor cellular processes, and advances in molecular biology have highlighted the ease with which proteins can now be labelled with fluorophores without loss of functionality. This has led to an explosion in the popularity of fluorescence microscopy techniques. One such specialized technique, total internal reflection fluorescence microscopy (TIR-FM), is ideally suited to gaining insight into events occurring at, or close to, the plasma membrane of live cells with excellent optical resolution. In the last few years, the application of TIR-FM to membrane trafficking events in both non-excitable and excitable cells has been an area of notable expansion and fruition. This review gives a brief overview of that literature, with emphasis on the study of the regulation of exocytosis and endocytosis in excitable cells using TIR-FM. Finally, recent applications of TIR-FM to the study of cellular processes at the molecular level are discussed briefly, providing promise that the future of TIR-FM in cell biology will only get brighter.

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