We report a new technology for in vivo tracking of hematopoietic cells, using fluorescent lipophilic probes. Because the probe is irreversibly bound in the lipids of the cell membrane; substantial numbers of dye molecules can be incorporated per cell and thus substantial signal to noise can be achieved. Although this technology can be used for all hematopoietic cells, these first findings are reported on red blood cells (RBCs) owing to the importance of the membrane to RBC function and integrity. We demonstrated that labeling 10% of the RBCs of a rabbit and reinjecting them into the animal makes possible the tracking of these cells at various times after injection. Furthermore, the labeling appears not to affect in vivo cell lifetime or cellular volume changes in response to hypotonic shock. The single cell fluorescence intensity of the labeled RBCs remains relatively constant for 60 days, and an immune response appears not to be generated against labeled cells. That labeled RBCs have lifetime kinetics in vivo, as shown in other studies, indicates that the membranes are functioning normally and are unaltered by the labeling technology. The technology we present is also applicable to white blood cells, bone marrow, and platelets.

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