The fluo family of indicators is frequently used in studying Ca(2+) physiology; however, choosing which fluo indicator to use is not obvious. Indicator properties are typically determined in well-defined aqueous solutions. Inside cells, however, the properties can change markedly. We have characterized each of three fluo variants (fluo-2MA, fluo-3 and fluo-4) in two forms-the acetoxymethyl (AM) ester and the K(+) salt. We loaded indicators into rat ventricular myocytes and used confocal microscopy to monitor depolarization-induced fluorescence changes and fractional shortening. Myocytes loaded with the indicator AM esters showed significantly different Ca(2+) transients and fractional shortening kinetics. Loading the K(+) salts via whole-cell patch-pipette eliminated differences between fluo-3 and fluo-4, but not fluo-2MA. Cells loaded with different indicator AM esters showed different staining patterns-suggesting differential loading into organelles. Ca(2+) dissociation constants (K(d,Ca)), measured in protein-rich buffers mimicking the cytosol were significantly higher than values determined in simple buffers. This increase in K(d,Ca) (decrease in Ca(2+) affinity) was greatest for fluo-3 and fluo-4, and least for fluo-2MA. We conclude that the structurally-similar fluo variants differ with respect to cellular loading, subcellular compartmentalization, and intracellular Ca(2+) affinity. Therefore, judicious choice of fluo indicator and loading procedure is advisable when designing experiments.
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