British journal of cancer

Differential effects of depleting agents on cytoplasmic and nuclear non-protein sulphydryls: a fluorescence image cytometry study.

PMID 7599065


The intracellular distribution of glutathione (GSH) was measured by a quantitative image cytometry method, using the sulphydryl-reactive agent mercury orange. This readily forms fluorescent adducts with GSH and other non-protein sulphydryls (NPSH), but reacts much more slowly with protein sulphydryls. Under optimum staining conditions mean integrated mercury orange fluorescence per cell was closely correlated with a standard biochemical assay for GSH. Use of the DNA dye DAPI as a counterstain allowed measurement of nuclear NPSH. The mean nuclear-cytoplasmic ratio was 0.57 +/- 0.05. Isolation of nuclei under aqueous conditions resulted in the loss of approximately 90% of mercury orange fluorescence, compared with nuclear fluorescence from intact cells, suggesting that background labelling of protein sulphydryls or other macromolecules is low. Depletion of GSH with N-ethylmaleimide or diethylmaleate decreased mercury orange fluorescence in the nucleus and cytoplasm to a similar extent. In contrast, mercury orange fluorescence in the nucleus was much more resistant to DL-buthionine-S,R-sulphoximine (BSO) depletion than that in the cytoplasm. This finding is compatible with a distinct pool of GSH in the nucleus that is comparatively resistant to BSO depletion. Alternatively, the retention of fluorescence in the nucleus following GSH depletion by BSO treatment might be due to accumulation of cysteine. These findings have implications for cancer treatment since the level of NPSH in the nucleus might be a more important determinant of resistance to DNA-damaging agents than that in cytoplasm. The image cytometry method described here is quantitative, allows a measure of tumour cell heterogeneity and can be applied to small biopsy samples obtained by fine-needle aspiration. Thus it appears suitable for prospective clinical studies in cancer patients, and for monitoring the effects of GSH-depleting agents used as adjuncts to cancer chemotherapy or radiotherapy.