Filipin as a flow microfluorometry probe for cellular cholesterol

Claude P. Muller*, David A. Stephany, David F. Winkler, Jeffrey M. Hoeg, Stephen J. Demosky, John R. Wunderlich

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

51 Citations (Scopus)


The polyene antibiotic filipin, which forms specific complexes with 3β‐hydroxysterols, displays spectral properties compatible with its use in flow microfluorometry (FMF). The purpose of this study was to test the suitability of filipin as an FMF probe for unesterified cellular cholesterol. The following experimental conditions appeared optimal for cells with an average unesterified cholesterol content of less than 3 nmol per 106 cells: 2 × 106 fixed cells (1–4% p‐formaldehyde, 30 min, 21°C) stained for 2–4 h with 100 μg/ml filipin and excited at 350. 7/356. 7 nm. Fluorescence emission (Em) was measured above 510 nm. Less suitable conditions involved excitation at 488 nm or using cells which had not been fixed. Fixation preserved the live‐dead cell discrimination provided by forward light scatter measurements, so that dead cells could be excluded from the FMF analysis of cellular cholesterol. Under the above conditions FMF showed that in all cases the fluorescence intensity of filipin‐stained cells was clearly increased above autofluorescence levels of the unstained control cells. The increase in fluorescence signal in different filipin stained cell types correlated (P ⩽ .001) with the cellular content of unesterified cholesterol determined by an independent enzymatic assay. The sensitivity of the FMF assay was in the femtomole (10–15) range. Mixing experiments with cells of different cholesterol levels showed that the technique distinguishes cell populations with distinctive levels of unesterified cholesterol. We therefore concluded that filipin is a useful FMF probe for determining relative levels of unesterified cholesterol in cells.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)42-54
Number of pages13
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1984
Externally publishedYes


  • Flow cytometry
  • cholesterol
  • filipin
  • flow microfluorometry


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