Investigating mitochondrial redox state using NADH and NADPH autofluorescence

Free Radic Biol Med. 2016 Nov;100:53-65. doi: 10.1016/j.freeradbiomed.2016.08.010. Epub 2016 Aug 9.


The redox states of the NAD and NADP pyridine nucleotide pools play critical roles in defining the activity of energy producing pathways, in driving oxidative stress and in maintaining antioxidant defences. Broadly speaking, NAD is primarily engaged in regulating energy-producing catabolic processes, whilst NADP may be involved in both antioxidant defence and free radical generation. Defects in the balance of these pathways are associated with numerous diseases, from diabetes and neurodegenerative disease to heart disease and cancer. As such, a method to assess the abundance and redox state of these separate pools in living tissues would provide invaluable insight into the underlying pathophysiology. Experimentally, the intrinsic fluorescence of the reduced forms of both redox cofactors, NADH and NADPH, has been used for this purpose since the mid-twentieth century. In this review, we outline the modern implementation of these techniques for studying mitochondrial redox state in complex tissue preparations. As the fluorescence spectra of NADH and NADPH are indistinguishable, interpreting the signals resulting from their combined fluorescence, often labelled NAD(P)H, can be complex. We therefore discuss recent studies using fluorescence lifetime imaging microscopy (FLIM) which offer the potential to discriminate between the two separate pools. This technique provides increased metabolic information from cellular autofluorescence in biomedical investigations, offering biochemical insights into the changes in time-resolved NAD(P)H fluorescence signals observed in diseased tissues.

Keywords: FLIM; Fluorescence; Microscopy; Mitochondria; Nadh; Nadph; Redox.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Energy Metabolism
  • Fluorescence
  • Humans
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence / methods*
  • Mitochondria / metabolism*
  • NAD / chemistry*
  • NAD / metabolism
  • NADP / chemistry*
  • NADP / metabolism
  • Oxidation-Reduction*


  • NAD
  • NADP