Red/far-red fluorescing DNA-specific anthraquinones for nucl:cyto segmentation and viability reporting in cell-based assays

Methods Enzymol. 2012;505:23-45. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-12-388448-0.00010-3.


The advent and wide use of image-based, high-content screening assay formats demands reliable solutions for cellular compartment segmentation to track critical events-for example, those reported by GFP fusions within cell cycle control pathways, signaling pathways, protein translocations, and those associated with drug-induced toxicity such as mitochondrial membrane depolarization, plasma membrane permeabilization, and reactive oxygen species. To meet this need, a series of nuclear/cytoplasmic discriminating probes has been developed: the supravital dyes DRAQ5™ and CyTRAK Orange™ and most recently the viability dye DRAQ7™. These are all spectrally compatible with GFP reporters offering new solutions in imaging and cytometry. As red/far-red emitting dyes, they provide convenient fluorescent emission signatures which are spectrally separated from the majority of commonly used reporter proteins (e.g., eGFP, YFP, mRFP), and a wide range of fluorescent tags such as Alexafluor 488, fluorescein, and Cy2 and fluorescent functional probes used to report cell health status or demark organellar structures. In addition, they are not excited by UV wavelengths thus avoiding complications of the frequently seen pharmacophore UV-autofluorescence in drug discovery. Conversely, their preferential red excitation reduces interference by biological sample autofluorescence. High water solubility and high-affinity DNA-binding properties provide a convenient means of stoichiometrically labeling cell nuclei in live cells without the aid of DMSO and can equally be used for fixed cells. Powerfully, they permit the simultaneous and differential labeling of both nuclear and cytoplasmic compartments in live and fixed cells to clearly render the precise location of cell boundaries which may be beneficial for quantitative expression measurements, cell-cell interactions, and most recently compound in vitro toxicology testing. In one case, DRAQ7™, the core structure has been chemically derivatized to render it intact-cell-membrane impermeant. This far-red viability dye can be more widely combined with other fluorescent reporters to reveal temporally separated events and shows negligible cytotoxicity as determined by sensitive bioassays.

MeSH terms

  • Anthraquinones / chemistry*
  • Cell Compartmentation
  • Cell Nucleus
  • Cell Survival
  • Cell Tracking / methods*
  • Cytoplasm
  • DNA / analysis*
  • DNA / chemistry
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Fluorescent Dyes / analysis
  • Fluorescent Dyes / chemistry*
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins*
  • Humans


  • 1,5-bis((2-(methylamino)ethyl)amino)-4,8-dihydroxyanthracene-9,10-dione
  • Anthraquinones
  • Fluorescent Dyes
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins
  • DNA