Imaging lysosomal enzyme activity in live cells using self-quenched substrates

Anal Biochem. 2012 May 15;424(2):178-83. doi: 10.1016/j.ab.2012.02.033. Epub 2012 Mar 3.


Endocytosis, the internalization and transport of extracellular cargo, is an essential cellular process. The ultimate step in endocytosis is the intracellular degradation of extracellular cargo for use by the cell. While live cell imaging and single particle tracking have been well-utilized to study the internalization and transport of cargo, the final degradation step has required separate biochemical assays. We describe the use of self-quenched endocytic cargo to image the intracellular transport and degradation of endocytic cargo directly in live cells. We first outline the fluorescent labeling and quantification of two common endocytic cargos: a protein, bovine serum albumin, and a lipid nanoparticle, low-density lipoprotein. In vitro measurements confirm that self-quenching is a function of the number of fluorophores bound to the protein or particle and that recovery of the fluorescent signal occurs in response to enzymatic degradation. We then use confocal fluorescence microscopy and flow cytometry to demonstrate the use of self-quenched bovine serum albumin with standard fluorescence techniques. Using live cell imaging and single particle tracking, we find that the degradation of bovine serum albumin occurs in an endo-lysosomal vesicle that is positive for LAMP1.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Transport / physiology
  • Biomarkers / metabolism
  • Cattle
  • Cell Line
  • Chlorocebus aethiops
  • Endocytosis / physiology
  • Endosomes / metabolism*
  • Endosomes / ultrastructure
  • Epithelial Cells / metabolism*
  • Epithelial Cells / ultrastructure
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Fluorescent Dyes
  • Hydrolases
  • Lipoproteins, LDL / metabolism*
  • Lysosomal-Associated Membrane Protein 1 / metabolism
  • Lysosomes / metabolism*
  • Lysosomes / ultrastructure
  • Microscopy, Confocal
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence
  • Molecular Imaging / methods*
  • Proteolysis
  • Serum Albumin, Bovine / metabolism*


  • Biomarkers
  • Fluorescent Dyes
  • Lipoproteins, LDL
  • Lysosomal-Associated Membrane Protein 1
  • Serum Albumin, Bovine
  • Hydrolases