Extracellular pH affects the fluorescence lifetimes of metabolic co-factors

Rebecca Schmitz, Kelsey Tweed, Christine Walsh, Alex J. Walsh, Melissa C. Skala

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Significance: Autofluorescence measurements of the metabolic cofactors NADH and flavin adenine dinucleotide (FAD) provide a label-free method to quantify cellular metabolism. However, the effect of extracellular pH on flavin lifetimes is currently unknown. Aim: To quantify the relationship between extracellular pH and the fluorescence lifetimes of FAD, flavin mononucleotide (FMN), and reduced nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (phosphate) [NAD(P)H]. Approach: Human breast cancer (BT474) and HeLa cells were placed in pH-adjusted media. Images of an intracellular pH indicator or endogenous fluorescence were acquired using two-photon fluorescence lifetime imaging. Fluorescence lifetimes of FAD and FMN in solutions were quantified over the same pH range. Results: The relationship between intracellular and extracellular pH was linear in both cell lines. Between extracellular pH 4 to 9, FAD mean lifetimes increased with increasing pH. NAD(P)H mean lifetimes decreased with increasing pH between extracellular pH 5 to 9. The relationship between NAD(P)H lifetime and extracellular pH differed between the two cell lines. Fluorescence lifetimes of FAD, FAD-cholesterol oxidase, and FMN solutions decreased, showed no trend, and showed no trend, respectively, with increasing pH. Conclusions: Changes in endogenous fluorescence lifetimes with extracellular pH are mostly due to indirect changes within the cell rather than direct pH quenching of the endogenous molecules.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number056502
JournalJournal of Biomedical Optics
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1 2021


  • BT474
  • HeLa
  • NADH
  • autofluorescence
  • flavin adenine dinucleotide
  • fluorescence lifetime
  • pH

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Electronic, Optical and Magnetic Materials
  • Biomaterials
  • Atomic and Molecular Physics, and Optics
  • Biomedical Engineering


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