Assessment and interpretation of bacterial viability by using the LIVE/DEAD BacLight kit in combination with flow cytometry

Michael Berney, Frederik Hammes, Franziska Bosshard, Hans Ulrich Weilenmann, Thomas Egli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

680 Scopus citations


The commercially available LIVE/DEAD BacLight kit is enjoying increased popularity among researchers in various fields of microbiology. Its use in combination with flow cytometry brought up new questions about how to interpret LIVE/DEAD staining results. Intermediate states, normally difficult to detect with epifluorescence microscopy, are a common phenomenon when the assay is used in flow cytometry and still lack rationale. It is shown here that the application of propidium iodide in combination with a green fluorescent total nucleic acid stain on UVA-irradiated cells of Escherichia coli, Salmonella enterica serovar Typhimurium, Shigella flexneri, and a community of freshwater bacteria resulted in a clear and distinctive flow cytometric staining pattern. In the gram-negative bacterium E. coli as well as in the two enteric pathogens, the pattern can be related to the presence of intermediate cellular states characterized by the degree of damage afflicted specifically on the bacterial outer membrane. This hypothesis is supported by the fact that EDTA-treated nonirradiated cells exhibit the same staining properties. On the contrary, this pattern was not observed in gram-positive Enterococcus faecalis, which lacks an outer membrane. Our observations add a new aspect to the LIVE/DEAD stain, which so far was believed to be dependent only on cytoplasmic membrane permeability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3283-3290
Number of pages8
JournalApplied and Environmental Microbiology
Issue number10
StatePublished - May 2007
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Food Science
  • Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology
  • Ecology


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