Here we use the combination of fluorescent molecular rotors (FMR) and fluorescence lifetime imaging (FLIM) to image matrix viscosity in live cells. We use non-cancerous, epithelial human cornea (HCE) cells as a model system. We find that mitochondrial matrix viscosity varies between individual cells and even between individual organelles, showcasing the potential of viscosity imaging for cell biology purposes.
Imaging viscosity and its spatiotemporal patterns can provide valuable insight into the underlying physical conditions of biochemical reactions and biological processes in cells and tissues. One way to measure viscosity and diffusion is the use of fluorescence recovery after photobleaching (FRAP). We combine FRAP with FLIM and time-resolved fluorescence anisotropy imaging (tr-FAIM), by acquiring time- and polarization-resolved fluorescence images in every frame of a FRAP series. This allows us to simultaneously monitor translational and rotational diffusion. This approach can be applied to measuring diffusion in homogeneous and heterogeneous environments, and in principle also allows the study of homo-FRET. Another way to measure viscosity and diffusion is through specific flexible dyes, e.g. fluorescent molecular rotors, whose fluorescence quantum yield and fluorescence lifetime depend on the viscosity of the environment, in combination with fluorescence lifetime imaging (FLIM). We show that a bodipybased fluorescent molecular rotor targeting mitochondria reports on their viscosity, which changes under physiological stimuli. Both methods can optically measure viscosity and diffusion on the micrometer scale.