Fluro-Gold: composition, and mechanism of uptake

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Determining the mechanism by which fluorescent retrograde neuronal tracers are taken up requires knowledge of their composition. It has been claimed that Fluoro-Gold, a retrogradely transported fluorescent neuronal tracer, is 2-hydroxy-4-4′-diamidinostilbene (hydroxystilbamidine), an amidine antibiotic. However, this appears questionable, since the fluorescence spectrograms reported for Fluoro-Gold differ markedly from the spectrograms previously reported for purified hydroxystilbamidine. To help clarify the mechanism by which Fluoro-Gold might be taken up, it was decided to examine its composition and determine whether hydroxystilbamidine was its active agent. Fluoro-Gold was found by mass spectrometry to contain a component with a molecular weight of 280 Da (identical to that of hydroxystilbamidine), and fluorescence spectroscopy demonstrated the existence of a substance with a fluorescence spectrum similar to that of purified hydroxystilbamidine. Although a major fluorescent impurity was also observed, chromatographic separation of different fluorescent components of Fluoro-Gold suggested that the fraction resembling hydroxystilbamidine was responsible for its retrograde labeling of cells. It is concluded that hydroxystilbamidine is the active constituent of Fluoro-Gold. Chemically, hydroxystilbamidine is a weak base. In this respect is resembles True blue, DAPI, Granular blue, bis-benzimide, Nuclear yellow, and several other retrogradely transported molecules. It it suggested that these agents cross cell membranes in their uncharged form and are trapped in lysosomes and endosomes by a favorable pH gradient. Thus, the uptake of this type of retrograde tracer may be an example of a well-understood process occurring widely throughout biological systems: the trapping of weak bases in acidic cellular compartments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)135-148
Number of pages14
JournalBrain Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 5 1991


  • Amidine
  • Fluorescence
  • Hydroxystilbamidine
  • Lysosome
  • Retrograde neuronal tracing
  • Stilbamidine
  • Stilbene
  • Weak base


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