Predicting small molecule fluorescent probe localization in living cells using QSAR modeling. 1. Overview and models for probes of structure, properties and function in single cells

Biotech Histochem. 2013 Nov;88(8):440-60. doi: 10.3109/10520295.2013.780634. Epub 2013 Jun 13.


Small molecule fluorochromes (synonyms: biosensors, chemosensors, fluorescent probes, vital stains) are widely used to investigate the structure, composition, physicochemical properties and biological functions of living cells, tissues and organisms. Selective entry and accumulation within particular cells and cellular structures are key processes for achieving these diverse objectives. Despite the complexities, probes routinely are applied using standard protocols, often without experimenter awareness of what factors that control accumulation and localization. The mechanisms of many such selective accumulations, however, now are known. Moreover, the influence of physicochemical properties of probes on their uptake and localization often can be defined numerically, hence predicted, using quantitative structure activity relations (QSAR) models with its required numerical structure parameters (or "descriptors"). The state of the art of this approach is described. Available QSAR models are summarized for uptake into cells and localization in the cytosol, endoplasmic reticulum, generic biomembranes, Golgi apparatus, lipid droplets, lysosomes/endosomes, mitochondria, eukaryotic nuclei (histones and DNA), plasma membrane, and ribosomal RNA (cytoplasmic and nucleolar). Integration of such core models to both aid understanding and troubleshooting of current fluorescent probes and to assist the design of novel probes is outlined and illustrated using case examples. Limitations and generic problems arising with this approach and comments on application of such approaches to xenobiotics other than probes, e.g., drugs and herbicides, together with a brief note about an alternative approach to prediction, are given.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cells / cytology
  • Cells / metabolism
  • Fluorescent Dyes / chemistry*
  • Fluorescent Dyes / metabolism*
  • Models, Biological*
  • Quantitative Structure-Activity Relationship
  • Single-Cell Analysis*


  • Fluorescent Dyes