Docosanol is an over-the-counter topical agent that has proved to be one of the most effective therapies for treating herpes simplex labialis. However, the mechanism by which docosanol suppresses lesion formation remains poorly understood. To elucidate its mechanism of action, we investigated the uptake of docosanol in living cells using coherent anti-Stokes Raman scattering microscopy. Based on direct visualization of the deuterated docosanol, we observed highly concentrated docosanol inside living cells 24 h after drug treatment. In addition, different spatial patterns of drug accumulation were observed in different cell lines. In keratinocytes, which are the targeted cells of docosanol, the drug molecules appeared to be docking at the periphery of the cell membrane. In contrast, the drug molecules in fibroblasts appeared to accumulate in densely packed punctate regions throughout the cytoplasm. These results suggest that this molecular imaging approach is suitable for the longitudinal tracking of drug molecules in living cells to identify cell-specific trafficking and may also have implications for elucidating the mechanism by which docosanol suppresses lesion formation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number070502
JournalJournal of biomedical optics
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 1 2017


  • coherent Raman imaging
  • docosanol
  • herpes simplex virus-1
  • intracellular imaging

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Electronic, Optical and Magnetic Materials
  • Biomaterials
  • Atomic and Molecular Physics, and Optics
  • Biomedical Engineering


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