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MitoSOX Red is a fluorescent probe used for the detection of mitochondrial reactive oxygen species by live cell imaging. The lipophilic, positively charged triphenylphosphonium moiety within MitoSOX concentrates the superoxide-sensitive dihydroethidium conjugate within the mitochondrial matrix. Here we investigated whether common MitoSOX imaging protocols influence mitochondrial bioenergetic function in primary rat cortical neurons and microglial cell lines. MitoSOX dose-dependently uncoupled neuronal respiration, whether present continuously in the assay medium or washed following a ten minute loading protocol. Concentrations of 5-10μM MitoSOX caused severe loss of ATP synthesis-linked respiration. Redistribution of MitoSOX to the cytoplasm and nucleus occurred concomitant to mitochondrial uncoupling. MitoSOX also dose-dependently decreased the maximal respiration rate and this impairment could not be rescued by delivery of a complex IV specific substrate, revealing complex IV inhibition. As in neurons, loading microglial cells with MitoSOX at low micromolar concentrations resulted in uncoupled mitochondria with reduced respiratory capacity whereas submicromolar MitoSOX had no adverse effects. The MitoSOX parent compound dihydroethidium also caused mitochondrial uncoupling and respiratory inhibition at low micromolar concentrations. However, these effects were abrogated by pre-incubating dihydroethidium with cation exchange beads to remove positively charged oxidation products, which would otherwise by sequestered by polarized mitochondria. Collectively, our results suggest that the matrix accumulation of MitoSOX or dihydroethidium oxidation products causes mitochondrial uncoupling and inhibition of complex IV. Because MitoSOX is inherently capable of causing severe mitochondrial dysfunction with the potential to alter superoxide production, its use therefore requires careful optimization in imaging protocols. Copyright © 2015 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


Brian A Roelofs, Shealinna X Ge, Paige E Studlack, Brian M Polster. Low micromolar concentrations of the superoxide probe MitoSOX uncouple neural mitochondria and inhibit complex IV. Free radical biology & medicine. 2015 Sep;86:250-8

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PMID: 26057935

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