Hepatocyte autofluorescence represents a major problem in immunofluorescence studies with fluorescein conjugates because of significant spectral overlap. We describe a method for immunostaining hepatocytes with R-phycoerythrin (a fluorochrome with minimal overlap with autofluorescence) with paraformaldehyde fixation and Triton X-100 permeabilization for better antibody penetration. This method produced both perinuclear (presumed Golgi apparatus) and dispersed, reticular staining (presumed endoplasmic reticulum) in rat hepatocytes in culture stained with a monoclonal antibody to rat apolipoprotein B. Treatment with brefeldin A resulted in loss of apolipoprotein B perinuclear staining and increased reticular immunofluorescence consistent with known properties of brefeldin A (inhibition of protein transport within the secretory pathway by dissolution of Golgi bodies). This suggests that apolipoprotein B epitopes are present in both Golgi bodies and endoplasmic reticulum. To demonstrate the utility of the technique for quantitative studies, static cell cytofluorometry of brefeldin A—treated cells was performed, demonstrating increases in specific immunofluorescence of apolipoprotein B corresponding closely to results estimated by monoclonal antibody radioimmunoassays of cellular homogenates. The technique was then used with flow cytometry of single-cell suspensions of control rat hepatocytes derived from immunostained primary cultures to reveal cell-to-cell heterogeneity of apolipoprotein B epitope expression manifested as apolipoprotein B—negative and positive populations. Results for brefeldin A—treated cells revealed even clearer delineation of heterogeneity as indicated by frank bimodality of the populations, along with not only higher mean apolipoprotein B levels but also a significantly higher proportion of apolipoprotein B—positive cells than in the control. (HEPATOLOGY 1992;15:1117–1124).
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