Chromatic shifts in the fluorescence emitted by murine thymocytes stained with Hoechst 33342




Many methods in flow cytometry rely on staining DNA with a fluorescent dye to gauge DNA content. From the relative intensity of the fluorescence signature, one can then infer position in cell cycle, amount of DNA (i.e., for sperm selection), or, as in the case of flow karyotyping, to distinguish individual chromosomes. This work examines the staining of murine thymocytes with a common DNA dye, Hoechst 33342, to investigate nonlinearities in the florescence intensity as well as chromatic shifts.


Murine thymocytes were stained with Hoechst 33342 and measured in a flow cytometer at two fluorescence emission bands. In other measurements, cells were stained at different dye concentrations, and then centrifuged. The supernatant was then used for a second round of staining to test the amount of dye uptake. Finally, to test for resonant energy transfer, we measured fluorescence anisotropy at two different wavelengths.


The fluorescence of cells stained with Hoechst 33342 is a nonlinear process that shows an overall decrease in intensity with increased dye uptake, and spectral shift to the red. Along with the spectral shift of the fluorescence to the longer wavelengths, we document decreases in the fluorescence anisotropy that may indicate resonant energy transfer.


At low concentrations, Hoechst 33342 binds to the minor groove of DNA and shows an increase in fluorescence and a blue shift upon binding. At higher concentrations, at which the dye molecules can no longer bind without overlapping, the blue fluorescence decreases and the red fluorescence increases until there is approximately one dye molecule per DNA base pair. The ratio of the blue fluorescence to the red fluorescence is an accurate indicator of the cellular dye concentration. © 2004 Wiley-Liss, Inc.