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Third-generation In Situ Hybridization Chain Reaction: Multiplexed, Quantitative, Sensitive, Versatile, Robust

Harry M. T. Choi, Maayan Schwarzkopf, Mark E. Fornace, Aneesh Acharya, Georgios Artavanis, Johannes Stegmaier, Alexandre Cunha, Niles A. Pierce

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ABSTRACT In situ hybridization based on the mechanism of the hybridization chain reaction (HCR) has addressed multi-decade challenges that impeded imaging of mRNA expression in diverse organisms, offering a unique combination of multiplexing, quantitation, sensitivity, resolution and versatility. Here, with third-generation in situ HCR, we augment these capabilities using probes and amplifiers that combine to provide automatic background suppression throughout the protocol, ensuring that reagents will not generate amplified background even if they bind non-specifically within the sample. Automatic background suppression dramatically enhances performance and robustness, combining the benefits of a higher signal-to-background ratio with the convenience of using unoptimized probe sets for new targets and organisms. In situ HCR v3.0 enables three multiplexed quantitative analysis modes: (1) qHCR imaging – analog mRNA relative quantitation with subcellular resolution in the anatomical context of whole-mount vertebrate embryos; (2) qHCR flow cytometry – analog mRNA relative quantitation for high-throughput expression profiling of mammalian and bacterial cells; and (3) dHCR imaging – digital mRNA absolute quantitation via single-molecule imaging in thick autofluorescent samples.