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Anal Biochem. 2001 Jul 15;294(2):118-25.

Fluorescence lifetime characterization of novel low-pH probes.

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Center for Fluorescence Spectroscopy, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, University of Maryland, 725 West Lombard Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21201, USA


The structures and functions of the cellular acidic compartments are strongly dependent on the pH gradients across vesicular membranes. Measurement and imaging of the vesicular pH require fluorophores with appropriate pK(a) values. In this report, we characterized the pH-dependent lifetime responses of a family of acidotropic probes, LysoSensors, to evaluate their usefulness to low-pH lifetime imaging. LysoSensors are cell-permeable weak bases that selectively accumulate in acidic vesicles after being protonated. They have higher quantum yields at lower pH ranges to allow visualization of the lysosomes. For LysoSensors DND-167, DND-189, and DND-153, raising the buffer pH increased the quenching effects of their basic side chains and substantially reduced their steady-state fluorescence and lifetimes. The apparent pK(a) values determined from their lifetime responses were shifted to near neutral values because of the dominant intensity contribution from their protonated species. One unique property of LysoSensor DND-189 is its nonmonotonic lifetime responses of the maxima occurring between pH 4 and 5. LysoSensor DND-192 did not show significant lifetime changes over a wide pH range. LysoSensor DND-160, which was the only excitation and emission ratiometric probe, showed significant pH-dependent lifetime changes as well as its spectral shifts. Its apparent pK(a) values determined from the lifetime responses were comparable to the lysosomal pH because of its bright basic form. Because of the pH-dependent absorption spectra, the apparent pK(a) values could be manipulated between 3 and 5 by changing the excitation and/or emission wavelengths. These results indicate that LysoSensor DND-160 is a promising probe for lifetime imaging to determine lysosomal pH.

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