Analysis of Cytosolic and Lysosomal pH in Apoptotic Cells by Flow Cytometry

Methods Cell Sci. 2003;25(3-4):185-94. doi: 10.1007/s11022-004-8228-3.


Several reports indicate that the cytosol is acidified during apoptosis although the mechanism is not yet fully elucidated. The most acidic organelle found in the cell is the lysosome, raising the possibility that lysosomal proton release may contribute to the cytosolic acidification. We here describe methods for measurement of the cytosolic and lysosomal pH in U937 cells by a dual-emission ratiometric technique suitable for flow cytometry. Cytosolic pH was analysed in cells loaded with the fluorescent probe BCECF, while lysosomal pH was determined after endocytosis of FITC-dextran. Standard curves were obtained by incubating cells in buffers with different pH in the presence of the proton ionophore nigericin. Apoptosis was induced by exposure of cells to 10 ng/ml TNF-alpha for 4 h, and apoptotic cells were identified using a fluorescent marker for active caspases. By gating of control and apoptotic cells, the cytosolic and lysosomal pH were calculated in each population. The cytosolic pH was found to decrease from 7.2+/-0.1 to 5.8+/-0.1 and the lysosomal increased from 4.3+/-0.4 to 5.2+/-0.3. These methods will be useful in future attempts to evaluate the involvement of lysosomes in the acidification of the cytosol during apoptosis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Apoptosis / drug effects
  • Apoptosis / physiology*
  • Caspases / metabolism*
  • Cytosol / metabolism*
  • Enzyme Activation / drug effects*
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Fluorescent Dyes / chemistry
  • Humans
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Lysosomes / metabolism*
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / pharmacology
  • U937 Cells


  • Fluorescent Dyes
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha
  • Caspases