Acridine orange (C.I. 46005)

Acridine orange is an organic compound that serves as a nucleic acid-selective fluorescent dye with cationic properties useful for cell cycle determination. Acridine orange is cell-permeable, which allows the dye to interact with DNA by intercalation, or RNA via electrostatic attractions. When bound to DNA, acridine orange is very similar spectrally to an organic compound known as fluorescein. Acridine orange and fluorescein have a maximum excitation at 502nm and 525 nm (green). When acridine orange associates with RNA, the fluorescent dye experiences a maximum excitation shift from 525 nm (green) to 460 nm (blue). The shift in maximum excitation also produces a maximum emission of 650 nm (red). Acridine orange is able to withstand low pH environments, allowing the fluorescent dye to penetrate acidic organelles such as lysosomes and phagolysosomes that are membrane-bound organelles essential for acid hydrolysis or for producing products of phagocytosis of apoptotic cells. Acridine orange is used in epifluorescence microscopy and flow cytometry. The ability to penetrate the cell membranes of acidic organelles and cationic properties of acridine orange allows the dye to differentiate between various types of cells (i.e., bacterial cells and white blood cells). The shift in maximum excitation and emission wavelengths provides a foundation to predict the wavelength at which the cells will stain.

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