Analysis of Mouse Liver Glycogen Content   

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Liver is the major site for glycogen storage. Glycogen content can be significantly altered upon disruption of glucose homeostasis in metabolic syndromes, such as diabetes. Glycogen content can be determined by an acid-hydrolysis method (Passonneau and Lauderdale, 1974). Basically, glucose, the hydrolysis product of glycogen, is converted into glucose-6-phosphate (G-6-P) by hexokinase in the presence of ATP. With the supply of NADP, G-6-P is further converted into 6-phosphogluconic acid by G-6-P dehydrogenase (G-6-PDH), while production of NADPH can be measured spectrophotometrically. Our lab has used this method to demonstrate that liver glycogen levels are significantly elevated in diabetic Perk knockout mice (Zhang et al., 2002).

Materials and Reagents

  1. Hydrochloric acid (Sigma-Aldrich, catalog number: 653799 )
  2. Sodium hydroxide
  3. Glucose (HK) assay reagent (Sigma-Aldrich, catalog number: G2020 )
  4. Beta-D(+)-glucose (Sigma-Aldrich, catalog number: G5767 )
  5. ddH2O
  6. Liquid nitrogen
  7. 2.0 M HCl
  8. 2.0 M NaOH


  1. Centrifuges (Eppendorf, Model 5415D )
  2. Cryogenic vials (Thermo Fisher Scientific, catalog number: 5000-0012 )
  3. 2 ml Eppendorf tube with locking lid (Thermo Fisher Scientific, catalog number: 02-681-299 )
  4. Spectra Max 384 spectrophotometer (Molecular Devices)
  5. Balance
  6. Quartz cuvette
  7. Scissors


  1. Liver sample preparation
    1. Sacrifice non-fasted animals and isolate liver slices. Transfer samples into cryogenic vials, flash-frozen in liquid nitrogen, and stored at -80 °C before use.
      1. Collect liver samples in the afternoon or during night when animals are well fed.
      2. Try to collect samples from around the same region (I typically used the right liver lobe).
      3. Record the growth and nutrition status of study subjects (body weight, water consumption, etc).
      4. Use the frozen samples within a month (I have never addressed whether degradation of glycogen could occur during long-term storage).
    2. For each single sample, prepare 0.5 ml of 2.0 M HCl in a 2 ml Eppendorf tube with locking lid. As the control to measure free glucose, substitute 2.0 M HCl with 2.0 M NaOH. Prepare and label enough tubes with either HCl or NaOH.
    3. Heat the tubes in boiling water for ~ 3 to 5 min.
    4. Centrifuge briefly, and then wipe the tubes and measure the weights on an analytical balance.
    5. Prepare frozen liver samples on dry ice. Transfer ~10 mg to 20 mg samples into the above tubes with hot HCl or NaOH. Measure the weights again on balance.
    6. Seal the tubes tightly and boil the samples in water for 1 h. To achieve complete hydrolysis, mince the liver samples within ~5 min with a scissors, and then shake the tubes vigorously every 10 min during the whole process.
    7. Cool samples on bench to room temperature (RT) and centrifuge briefly. Reconstitute original weights by adding ddH2O.
    8. Neutralize the hydrolysis products with 0.5 ml of 2.0 M NaOH or HCl, accordingly.
    9. Vortex samples vigorously and then centrifuge at maximum speed (i.e., ~ 22,000 x g) for 10 min.

  2. Glucose level determination - Glucose concentration of the hydrolysis product can be determined using the Glucose (HK) assay reagent.
    1. Reconstitute assay reagent with 20 ml ddH2O, and use this reagent within two months.
    2. For each single sample, prepare 1 ml assay reagent in an Eppendorf tube, and then add 10 μl supernatant of hydrolysis product. Meanwhile, use 10 μl freshly prepared 0.5 mM beta-D(+)-glucose as the standard, and 10 μl ddH2O as the blank.
    3. Incubated at RT for 5 min.
    4. Measure absorbance at 340 nm on a Spectra Max 384 spectrophotometer, using a Quartz cuvette.

  3. Liver glycogen content is determined as:
    Abs (sample)/Abs (standard) x Concentration (standard) (i.e., 0.5 mM) x Volume (standard) (i.e., 0.01 ml) x Total volume (i.e., 1.0 ml)/Volume (sample) (i.e., 0.01 ml)/ Weight (sample) (mg) x 1000
    Unit = micromoles glucosyl units/ per gram wet liver weight.


Please note that gender, age, genetic background, and particularly, feeding status, which can be affected by housing light-dark cycle, can affect glycogen levels in the liver. Animals fed ad libitum should be used for this type of experiment.


  1. 2.0 M HCl
  2. 2.0 M NaOH
  3. Glucose (HK) assay reagent


This protocol was adapted from the previously described work of Passonneau and Lauderdale (Passonneau and Lauderdale, 1974). PZ was supported by a research assistantship in the Cavener lab at the Pennsylvania State University. This work was supported by an NIH R01 grant awarded to DC.


  1. Passonneau, J. V. and Lauderdale, V. R. (1974). A comparison of three methods of glycogen measurement in tissues. Anal Biochem 60(2): 405-412.
  2. Zhang, P., McGrath, B., Li, S., Frank, A., Zambito, F., Reinert, J., Gannon, M., Ma, K., McNaughton, K. and Cavener, D. R. (2002). The PERK eukaryotic initiation factor 2 alpha kinase is required for the development of the skeletal system, postnatal growth, and the function and viability of the pancreas. Mol Cell Biol 22(11): 3864-3874.
Copyright: © 2012 The Authors; exclusive licensee Bio-protocol LLC.
How to cite: Zhang, P. (2012). Analysis of Mouse Liver Glycogen Content. Bio-protocol 2(10): e186. DOI: 10.21769/BioProtoc.186.

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sonam9a Chawla
I have been using your protocol for estimation of glycogen in liver and heart tissue. However, as recommended by you i use 40-50 mg tissue. Also in the step requiring estimation of free glucose i usually do not capture the tissue glucose content. Is the protocol working fine?? I get extremely low readings in the free glucose estimation which usually do not correlate with the results of my free glucose estimation assay in the tissue homogenate. Kindly comment. Looking forward to your reply

10/31/2015 6:34:03 AM Reply
Peichuan Zhang
Calico Life Sciences

Hi Sonam,

Could you please elaborate what you mean by "estimation of free glucose"? This protocol is based on acid-hydrolysis of glycogen in storage tissues, including liver and muscles, to produce free glucose that can be detected using the HK assay. The levels of glycogen could be low in fasted mice. However, according to what I could recall, we could always detect pretty good signals by the HK assay. Please make sure that the tissues are frozen in liquid nitrogen upon harvest, and it would be nice to prepare a glucose standard curve, just to to check the quality of the assay buffer.


11/12/2015 10:13:40 PM

Damilola Tanimowo
University of Ibadan
Hello Sir, really appreciate your post. I will like your assistance, i am to determine glycogen levels in poultry tissue, but standards are not available here and take between 6-8weeks for shipping after orders have been made. Using the PHESUL method is there a way that glucose could be used as a standard (since the glycogen present will be eventually hydrolised to glucose) for colorimetric readings?
9/12/2014 8:58:24 AM Reply
Peichuan Zhang
Department of Biology, The Pennsylvania State University, USA

Hi Damilola,

Actually, we used glucose (10ul, 0.5mM) as the standard for calculation in the assay. The acid hydrolysis step converts glycogen into free glucose, which then can be measured by the HK assay kit. You can find the assay kit from Sigma


9/22/2014 10:12:42 AM

Damilola Tanimowo
University of Ibadan

Hello Sir, I would like to know is there a colorimetric determination protocol for betaine and dimethylglicine in blood?

1/14/2015 1:26:20 AM

Peichuan Zhang
Department of Biology, The Pennsylvania State University, USA

Hi Damilola,

I have never done this type of assay. You may refer to other online protocols, for example, chromatography based


1/18/2015 1:11:51 PM

yunbing ma
Hi, thanks again for posting the protocol. I have one question.
After boiling the liver sample in the HCl (or NaOH), the weight is measured and water is added back in case of any evaporation. Then equal amount of NaOH or HCl is added to reneutralize the solution.
Do you test the pH to see whether the solution is actually neutral?
6/11/2014 3:30:03 PM Reply
Peichuan Zhang
Department of Biology, The Pennsylvania State University, USA

Hi Yunbing,

It is not necessary to measure the pH, as you will be using a rather small volume of hydrolysis product for the next step of enzyme reaction, which has a buffer for the reaction.

6/11/2014 6:09:25 PM

yunbing ma

Yeah..I use 1:200 in 0.05M sodium phosphate buffer (pH 7.4), and still have pH issues 90% of the time..I guess your dilution is around 1:100? (10ul supernatant+1ml assay reagent)

6/11/2014 9:06:52 PM

Peichuan Zhang
Department of Biology, The Pennsylvania State University, USA

I'd recommend you to prepare fresh 2M NaOH, and use fresh 2M HCl for the 1st step of acid hydrolysis (dilute from the 12.1M stock solution --- please refer to Yes - we used 10ul supernatant for the assay (1.0ml assay buffer with the HK enzyme). Should pH be a problem, you may consider to use less supernatant (e.g., 2ul) and increase the volume of assay solution (e.g., 1.5ml).

6/12/2014 9:22:41 AM

Shilpi Islam
Hirosaki University
Dear Sir
Thanks a lot for repeated cooperation and your valuable suggestions. I could not understand that glucosyl unit containing only glycogen or ester of glycogen (glycogen + glucose). I need to express my result as the concentration of glucose mg / g or glycogen mg/g wet tissue for comparison to others results of sheep liver. So,I need the conversation ration of glucosyl unit to glucose or only glycogen content. Please, if possible inform me.

Shilpi Islam
5/26/2014 8:39:24 PM Reply
Peichuan Zhang
Department of Biology, The Pennsylvania State University, USA

Hi Shilpi,

Acid hydrolysis of glycogen will yield glucose monomers, which will be converted further into G-6-P by hexokinase in the kit. The glucosyl unit, as expressed in the equation, refers to a glucose monomer. 1 umole of glucosyl unit is roughly 180ug (D-glucose, MW=180.2).

6/11/2014 6:06:29 PM

Shilpi Islam
Hirosaki University
Dear Sir
Thanks a lot for your valuable information. I followed your protocol as per your recommendation. In normal condition, sheep liver glycogen concentration is below of 100 mg/g wet liver wt. But my glycogen value was 1200-1500 mg/g wet liver wt.which too large. I boiled about 20 mg liver sample in hot 2M HCL for 1 hour and neutralized by 2M NaOH. Please inform me.

5/22/2014 7:00:35 PM Reply
Peichuan Zhang
Department of Biology, The Pennsylvania State University, USA

Hi Shilpi, we typically analyzed liver glycogen levels for mice that had been fasted overnight. I'd recommend you to check the feeding status for your study subjects, which would have strong effects on their liver glycogen contents. Meanwhile, could you please check and make sure that you use the right amount of glucose standard for the calculation?


5/23/2014 4:33:02 AM

Shilpi Islam
Hirosaki University
Dear sir
I am Shilpi Islam. Thank you for your previous solution. I have another inquire that after hemolysis of liver sample supernatant hydrolyzed solution will be used for the glycogen content. Can I store that supernatant solution for further use? If that is possible, so, what condition (storage temperature and time longevity)is require? If sample weight is more than 20 mg than hydrolysis solution (HCL/NaOH) volume (0.5 ml) will be changed or not? Please inform me.
5/11/2014 10:36:45 PM Reply
Peichuan Zhang
Department of Biology, The Pennsylvania State University, USA

Hi Shilpi,

This is a good question. Typically, I'd conduct the HK glucose assay right away once when I have obtained the glycogen hydrolysis product. 10 minutes of boiling is sufficient to kill the enzymes that could possibly degrade glucose, the molecule of our interest. However, long-term storage (for example, @ -20C or -80C with repeated cycles of freezing/thawing) may increase oxidation of glucose to gluconolactone, and thus, bring more deviations to the final assay. I'd recommend you to store the products (protect them from light) @ 4C if you need to wait to have all the samples ready for the assays.


5/12/2014 5:12:59 PM

Shilpi Islam
Hirosaki University
Dear Sir
I am a student. I have sheep liver and kidney samples. Can I determine my samples glycogen by this reagents? please inform me.
4/23/2014 11:12:02 PM Reply
Peichuan Zhang
Department of Biology, The Pennsylvania State University, USA

Hi, we have never used this protocol to analyze samples other than mouse livers. I assume that it would work as well. Glycogen is also present in the kidney in a small amount --- I didn't find out how much it is. You may check this reference as well:

Bulletin of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology
JAN.–APRIL 1979, Volume 21, Issue 1, pp 269-272
Levels of blood glucose and tissue glycogen in two live fish exposed to industrial effluent

A. D. Diwan, H. G. Hingorani, N. Chandrasekhram Naidu

They analyzed fishes, and the relative glycogen abundance in different tissues could provide you with a reference.

BTW, please also be aware that liver glycogen level increases significantly after meals.

Hope this info could be of help to you.


4/26/2014 8:44:03 AM

Ahmed Abou-Mesalam
Zagazig University
Hello sir
please explain the calculations because i cannot understand it
thanks alot
10/20/2013 12:28:30 PM Reply
Peichuan Zhang
Department of Biology, The Pennsylvania State University, USA

Thank you for the question. The same volume of hydrolysis products and 0.5mM glucose standard solution were used in the final enzymatic assay, and the concentration of glucosyl groups in the hydrolysis product is calculated by normalization of the absorbance of that of the 0.5mM globose. Then the total amount of glucosyl units in the 1.0ml hydrolyzed liver sample is determined, and then used for the calculation of average glucosyl units.

For example, 10mg liver was hydrolyzed and dissolved in 1.0ml solution.
Abs 10ul sample = 0.4
Abs 10ul 0.5mM glucose = 0.8

Then the total amount of glucosyl units in this 1.0ml solution will be:
0.4/0.8 x 0.5 x 1 = 0.25 umol
The average would be 0.25/10 = 0.025 umol glucosyl units/ mg wet liver

I hope this have answered your question.


10/22/2013 10:56:47 PM

norli arlizan
i am final year student in uitm and now I'm having problems with the project . I would like to study the level of liver glycogen in the diabetic rats that given a drug metformin and given plant extract.the problem is , to carry out the procedure I have no standard glycogen . Is there is other way todetermine the glycogen level result instead of you have given above?tq
5/8/2013 10:15:34 PM Reply
Good evening Sir/Mam,

I, G.Vinod kumar, working as a research scholar in Department of zoology India. In my resarch work i am going to concentrate on some biochemical aspects i.e., total protein (µg/mg), total glycogen (µg/mg), total carbohydrate (µg/mg), total DNA (µg/mg), total RNA (µg/mg), Total amino acids (µg/g) and GST enzyme quantity mg/unit protein mice tissues.I have some prtocols to quantify the above parameters in mg/ml and (µg/µl). But i would like to take the dry tisisue and estimate the amount of all the above said parameters in units (µg/mg) instead of (mg/ml) or (µg/µl).Hence i am requesting you to help by providing protocols to estimate them in mentioned units. Thanking you.

Sincerely Yours,
4/15/2012 2:47:53 AM Reply
Peichuan Zhang
Department of Biology, The Pennsylvania State University, USA


I have only used the above protocol to measure glycogen concentrations in the liver. I'm not quite that I fully understand your question though. From the description of your experiments, I believe the only way is to measure each single parameter, using respective methods/kits, and then normalize the quantities to the weight of the dry tissue.

TRIZol (Invitrogen) is supposed to help the isolation of DNA/RNA/protein from just one prep. However, I don't think that the isolate quality is good enough. Otherwise, I'd say that you may consider the most common methods to measure these

Protein - Bradford assay or BCA assay
Carbohydrate - Phenol/sulfuric acid method
DNA/RNA - Tissue extraction kit (Qiagen)
Amino acids - Chromatography

I don't think that we have all the protocols available here at our portal, and we will try to collect all these protocols.


4/18/2012 1:24:56 PM