Information about the rheological characteristics of the aqueous cytoplasm can be provided by analysis of the rotational motion of small polar molecules introduced into the cell. To determine fluid-phase cytoplasmic viscosity in intact cells, a polarization microscope was constructed for measurement of picosecond anisotropy decay of fluorescent probes in the cell cytoplasm. We found that the rotational correlation time (tc) of the probes, 2,7-bis-(2-carboxyethyl)-5-(and-6-)carboxyfluorescein (BCECF), 6-carboxyfluorescein, and 8-hydroxypyrene-1,3,6-trisulfonic acid (HPTS) provided a direct measure of fluid-phase cytoplasmic viscosity that was independent of probe binding. In quiescent Swiss 3T3 fibroblasts, tc values were 20-40% longer than those in water, indicating that the fluid-phase cytoplasm is only 1.2-1.4 times as viscous as water. The activation energy of fluid-phase cytoplasmic viscosity was 4 kcal/mol, which is similar to that of water. Fluid-phase cytoplasmic viscosity was altered by less than 10% upon addition of sucrose to decrease cell volume, cytochalasin B to disrupt cell cytoskeleton, and vasopressin to activate phospholipase C. Nucleoplasmic and peripheral cytoplasmic viscosities were not different. Our results establish a novel method to measure fluid-phase cytoplasmic viscosity, and indicate that fluid-phase cytoplasmic viscosity in fibroblasts is similar to that of free water.

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