Mitochondrial chelatable ('redox-active') iron is considered to contribute to several human diseases, but has not yet been characterized in viable cells. In order to determine this iron pool, we synthesized a new fluorescent indicator, rhodamine B-[(1,10-phenanthrolin-5-yl)aminocarbonyl]benzyl ester (RPA). In a cell-free system, RPA fluorescence was strongly and stoichiometrically quenched by Fe2+. RPA selectively accumulated in the mitochondria of cultured rat hepatocytes. The intramitochondrial RPA fluorescence was quenched when iron was added to the cells in a membrane-permeant form. It increased when the mitochondrial chelatable iron available to the probe was experimentally decreased by the membrane-permeant transition metal chelators pyridoxal isonicotinoyl hydrazone and 1,10-phenanthroline. The concentration of mitochondrial chelatable iron in cultured rat hepatocytes, quantified from the increase in RPA fluorescence after addition of pyridoxal isonicotinoyl hydrazone, was found to be 12.2±4.9μM. Inhibition of haem synthesis with succinylacetone did not alter the signal obtained in hepatocytes, but a rapid increase in the concentration of mitochondrial chelatable iron was observed in human erythroleukaemia K562 cells. In conclusion, RPA enables the selective determination of the highly physiologically and pathophysiologically interesting mitochondrial pool of chelatable iron in intact cells and to record the time course of alterations of this pool.

Abbreviations used: DTPA, diethylenetriaminepenta-acetic acid; FAS, ferrous ammonium sulphate/citric acid trisodium salt dihydrate; FCS, fetal-calf serum; HBSS, Hanks balanced salt solution; α-MEM, α-minimum essential medium; PG SK, Phen Green SK; PIH, pyridoxal isonicotinoyl hydrazone; RPA, rhodamine B-[(1,10-phenanthrolin-5-yl)aminocarbonyl]benzyl ester; SA, succinylacetone; TMRM, tetramethylrhodamine methylester.

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