Discrimination of live and early apoptotic mononuclear cells by the fluorescent SYTO 16 vital dye

Rosemary L. Sparrow, Emma Tippett

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Accurate detection of apoptotic cells is important for the determination of cell viability. The aim of this study was to compare the sensitivity of the cell permeant SYTO 16 fluorescent dye for detecting early apoptotic mononuclear cells (MNCs) in normal donor blood with other apoptosis assays [i.e. Annexin-V, light scatter/7-amino-actinomycin-D (7-AAD) and chloromethyl-X-rosamine (CMXRos)] and to identify critical parameters for optimal SYTO 16 staining. Apoptosis was induced in normal human leukocytes from adult peripheral blood or cord blood, or the Jurkat T-lymphocytic cell line and assessed by fluorescence microscopy and flow cytometry. Dual labelling showed that SYTO 16 detected more apoptotic MNCs compared to Annexin-V. SYTO 16 staining intensity was consistent with the light scatter profiles expected of live, apoptotic and necrotic MNCs and was more objective than light scatter/7-AAD. CMXRos staining required considerable care and may not be a robust marker of apoptotic primary MNCs. For SYTO 16 flow cytometric analysis, the optimal conditions for staining 1 × 106 leukocytes were 4 nM SYTO 16 in the presence of 30 μM verapamil for 25-45 min at 37°C in media containing calcium/magnesium supplemented with protein. A P-glycoprotein inhibitor, such as verapamil, and calcium/magnesium are essential for optimal loading of SYTO 16 into live MNCs and discrimination of apoptotic MNCs in normal blood samples. SYTO 16 is a sensitive, simple, inexpensive 'live cell' method for the discrimination of live, apoptotic and necrotic normal blood MNCs and is more sensitive for detecting apoptosis in these cells than Annexin-V or light scatter/7-AAD.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)173-187
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Immunological Methods
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 30 Oct 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • 7-AAD
  • Annexin V
  • Apoptosis
  • Flow cytometry
  • Mononuclear cells
  • SYTO 16

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