The in vitro localization of acridine orange (AO) in living cells was monitored by means of fluorescence microscopy, quantitative cell viability studies, and photofluorimetric measurements following dye-cell interaction. The parameters, pH, time, dye concentration, and the metabolic state of the cell were found to exert a profound influence on the time course and distribution of staining. The parameters studied are mutually interdependent, and intracellular dye localization may be predictably altered by their appropriate manipulation. Conditions are defined whereby two morphologically distinct but physiologically interrelated reactions, namely, acridine orange particle (AOP) formation and cytoplasmic reddening (CR) may be caused, prevented, reversed, or modified. These results are explained in terms of the facilitation or inhibition of an intracytoplasmic dye-segregating mechanism, in turn affected by the rate of dye ingress and the physiological state of the cell. Whereas the accumulation of AO in AOP is compatible with cell viability, the appearance of CR is correlated with cell death. It is pointed out that meaningful interpretation of vital staining requires precise regulation of many parameters in the extracellular milieu. A scheme of cell compartmentalization with respect to AO is proposed to satisfactorily account for the effects of environmental variations on the distribution and ultimate fate of intracellular dye. The AOP are viewed as normally present acid phosphatase-positive multivesicular bodies.

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