Numerous mammalian cells contain abundant Zn2+ in their secretory granules, yet available Zn2+ sensors lack the desired specificity and sensitivity for imaging granular Zn2+. We developed a fluorescent zinc granule indicator, ZIGIR, that possesses numerous desired properties for live cell imaging, including >100-fold fluorescence enhancement, membrane permeability, and selective enrichment to acidic granules. The combined advantages endow ZIGIR with superior sensitivity and specificity for imaging granular Zn2+. ZIGIR enables separation of heterogenous β cells based on their insulin content and sorting of mouse islets into pure α cells and β cells. In human islets, ZIGIR facilitates sorting of endocrine cells into highly enriched α cells and β cells, reveals unexpectedly high Zn2+ activity in the somatostatin granule of some δ cells, and uncovers variation in the glucagon content among human α cells. We expect broad applications of ZIGIR for studying Zn2+ biology and Zn2+-rich secretory granules and for engineering β cells with high insulin content for treating diabetes.
Keywords: FACS islet cell; TIRF imaging; ZIGIR; Zinc sensor; ZnT8; alpha cell heterogeneity; beta cell; delta cell; dense core granule; zinc imaging.
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