Uptake and Accumulation of the Vital Dye Hydroethidine in Neoplastic Cells

J Histochem Cytochem. 1986 Sep;34(9):1109-15. doi: 10.1177/34.9.2426339.


Hydroethidine, a reduced form of ethidium bromide, was used as a vital dye in fluorescence assays that allowed visual and semiquantitative monitoring of dye uptake and accumulation by fluorescence microscopy, flow cytometry, image analysis, and microfluorimetry. The excitation and emission filters were chosen to detect hydroethidine and exclude ethidium. Microscopically, there were differences in fluorescence intensities and fluorescence patterns among various tumor cell lines. The fluorescence pattern varied from homogeneous blue in the cytoplasm to blue plus brilliant packets of bluish-white distributed in the cytoplasm. Nuclear staining varied from brown to reddish orange fluorescence. These differences were confirmed by flow cytometry and image analysis. A preliminary survey of various tumors indicated that uptake and accumulation of hydroethidine were dependent on concentration of the dye, duration of cell exposure to the dye, and metabolic state of the cells. Microfluorimetry made possible monitoring of 96 samples in a microculture plate in 30 seconds; thus, this method allows large numbers of samples to be read, with a tremendous savings in time and reagents. The results obtained from the different techniques used were corroborative; therefore, any one of the above techniques may be used in an assay.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Line
  • Cytophotometry
  • Ethidium / analogs & derivatives*
  • Ethidium / metabolism
  • Fibrosarcoma / metabolism*
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Fluorescent Dyes*
  • Humans
  • Melanoma / metabolism*
  • Mice
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence
  • Spectrometry, Fluorescence
  • Staining and Labeling*


  • Fluorescent Dyes
  • Ethidium