Fluorescence ratio imaging microscopy (Tanasugarn, L., P. McNeil, G. Reynolds, and D. L. Taylor, 1984, J. Cell Biol., 98:717-724) has been used to measure the spatial variations in cytoplasmic pH of individual quiescent and nonquiescent Swiss 3T3 cells. Fundamental issues of ratio imaging that permit precise and accurate temporal and spatial measurements have been addressed including: excitation light levels, lamp operation, intracellular probe concentrations, methods of threshold selection, photobleaching, and spatial signal-to-noise ratio measurements. Subcellular measurements can be measured accurately (less than 3% coefficient of variation) in an area of 3.65 microns 2 with the present imaging system. Quiescent Swiss 3T3 cells have a measured cytoplasmic pH of 7.09 (0.01 SEM), whereas nonquiescent cells have a pH of 7.35 (0.01 SEM) in the presence of bicarbonate buffer. A unimodal distribution of mean cytoplasmic pH in both quiescent and nonquiescent cells was identified from populations of cells measured on a cell by cell basis. Therefore, unlike earlier studies based on cell population averages, it can be stated that cells in each population exhibit a narrow range of cytoplasmic pH. However, the mean cytoplasmic pH can change based on the physiological state of the cells. In addition, there appears to be little, if any, spatial variation in cytoplasmic pH in either quiescent or nonquiescent Swiss 3T3 cells. The pH within the nucleus was always the same as the surrounding cytoplasm. These values will serve as a reference point for investigating the role of temporal and spatial variations in cytoplasmic pH in a variety of cellular processes including growth control and cell movement.

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