Rapid assessment of islet viability with acridine orange and propidium iodide

In Vitro Cell Dev Biol. 1988 Apr;24(4):266-73. doi: 10.1007/BF02628826.


A simple, rapid method for estimating the viability of isolated islets of Langerhans with fluorescent dyes is described. Low concentrations of acridine orange and propidium iodide (AO/PI) were used to visualize living and dead islet cells simultaneously. AO/PI-stained islets can be divided into three distinct groups. Group A islets fluoresce green, contain insulin, and have normal ultrastructure; group C islets fluoresce primarily red, contain little or no insulin, and have cells with disrupted cellular membranes. Group B islets fluoresce red, green, and yellow. The yellow color is due to the addition of two primary colors from the superimposed red and green fluorescing cells. In this assay, the interpretation that red islet cells are dead and green islet cells are alive was confirmed by sequentially staining single islet cells with AO/PI and trypan blue. The observation that red islets are dead was confirmed by heat-killing, enzymatically damaging, treating with ethanol, or depriving islets of nutrients and observing the red fluorescence. This assay should be useful in studies where the assessment of islet viability is essential.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Acridine Orange*
  • Animals
  • Cell Survival
  • Cells, Cultured
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Islets of Langerhans / cytology*
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence
  • Phenanthridines*
  • Propidium*
  • Rats


  • Phenanthridines
  • Propidium
  • Acridine Orange