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Biophys J. 1990 Feb;57(2):231-40.

Mapping of fluorescence anisotropy in living cells by ratio imaging. Application to cytoplasmic viscosity.

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Department of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco 94143-0532.


Steady-state and time-resolved fluorescence properties of probes incorporated into living cells give information about the microenvironment near the probe. We have extended studies of spatially averaged fluorescence anisotropy (r) by using an epifluorescence microscope, equipped with excitation and emission polarizers and an image analysis system, to map r of nonoriented fluorophores incorporated into cultured cells. With this imaging system, r for reflected light or glycogen scattering solutions was greater than 0.98. Measurement of r over the range 0.01-0.35 for fluorophores in bulk solution and in thin capillary tubes placed side-by-side gave values equivalent to r measured by cuvette fluorometry. Cytoplasmic viscosity (eta) in Madin-Darby canine kidney (MDCK) cells and Swiss 3T3 fibroblasts was examined from anisotropy images and time-resolved fluorescence decay of the cytoplasmic probes 2,7-bis-carboxyethyl-5 (and 6)-carboxy-fluorescein (BCECF) and indo-1. Nanosecond lifetimes and anisotropy decay were measured using a pulsed light source and gated detector interfaced to the epifluorescence microscope. Anisotropy images of BCECF in MDCK cells revealed two distinct regions of r: one from the cytoplasm (r = 0.144 +/- 0.008) and a second appearing at late times from the interstitial region (r = 0.08 +/- 0.03), representing BCECF trapped beneath the tight junctions. Anisotropy values, taken together with intracellular life-times and the calibration between r and eta/tau f for water/glycerol mixtures, gave eta values of 10-13 cP at 23 degrees C. These values assume little fluorophore binding to intracellular components and are therefore upper limits to cytoplasmic viscosity. These data establish a new methodology to map anisotropy in intact cells to examine the role of fluidity in cellular physiology.

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