Apparent Anomalous Diffusion in the Cytoplasm of Human Cells: The Effect of Probes' Polydispersity

J Phys Chem B. 2017 Oct 26;121(42):9831-9837. doi: 10.1021/acs.jpcb.7b07158. Epub 2017 Oct 13.


This work, based on in vivo and in vitro measurements, as well as in silico simulations, provides a consistent analysis of diffusion of polydisperse nanoparticles in the cytoplasm of living cells. Using the example of fluorescence correlation spectroscopy (FCS), we show the effect of polydispersity of probes on the experimental results. Although individual probes undergo normal diffusion, in the ensemble of probes, an effective broadening of the distribution of diffusion times occurs-similar to anomalous diffusion. We introduced fluorescently labeled dextrans into the cytoplasm of HeLa cells and found that cytoplasmic hydrodynamic drag, exponentially dependent on probe size, extraordinarily broadens the distribution of diffusion times across the focal volume. As a result, the in vivo FCS data were effectively fitted with the anomalous subdiffusion model while for a monodisperse probe the normal diffusion model was most suitable. Diffusion time obtained from the anomalous diffusion model corresponds to a probe whose size is determined by the weight-average molecular weight of the polymer. The apparent anomaly exponent decreases with increasing polydispersity of the probes. Our results and methodology can be applied in intracellular studies of the mobility of nanoparticles, polymers, or oligomerizing proteins.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cytoplasm / chemistry*
  • Dextrans / chemistry*
  • Diffusion*
  • Fluorescent Dyes / chemistry*
  • HeLa Cells
  • Humans
  • Hydrodynamics
  • Spectrometry, Fluorescence


  • Dextrans
  • Fluorescent Dyes