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J Biomed Opt. 2009 Mar-Apr;14(2):021012. doi: 10.1117/1.3090448.

Delivery of optical contrast agents using Triton-X100, part 1: reversible permeabilization of live cells for intracellular labeling.

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  • 1Rice University, Department of Bioengineering, MS 142, Keck Hall, Suite 116, 6100 Main Street, Houston, Texas 77005, USA.


Effective delivery of optical contrast agents into live cells remains a significant challenge. We sought to determine whether Triton-X100, a detergent commonly used for membrane isolation and protein purification, could be used to effectively and reversibly permeabilize live cells for delivery of targeted optical contrast agents. Although Triton-X100 is widely recognized as a good cell permeabilization agent, no systematic study has evaluated the efficiency, reproducibility, and reversibility of Triton-X100-mediated permeabilization in live mammalian cells. We report a series of studies to characterize macromolecule delivery in cells following Triton-X100 treatment. Using this approach, we demonstrate that molecules ranging from 1 to 150 kDa in molecular weight can be reproducibly delivered into live cells by controlling the moles of Triton-X100 relative to the number of cells to be treated. When Triton-X100 is administered at or near the minimum effective concentration, cell permeabilization is generally reversed within 24 h, and treated cells continue to proliferate and show metabolic activity during the restoration of membrane integrity. We conclude that Triton-X100 is a promising permeabilization agent for efficient and reproducible delivery of optical contrast agents into live mammalian cells.

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