[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Highly bright and photostable cyanine dye-doped silica nanoparticles, IRIS Dots, are developed, which can efficiently label human mesenchymal stem cells (hMSCs). The application procedure used to label hMSCs is fast (2 h), the concentration of IRIS Dots for efficient labeling is low (20 μg mL(-1) ), and the labeled cells can be visualized by flow cytometry, confocal microscopy, and transmission electron microscopy. Labeled hMSCs are unaffected in their viability and proliferation, as well as stemness surface marker expression and differentiation capability into osteocytes. Moreover, this is the first report that shows nonfunctionalized IRIS Dots can discriminate between live and early-stage apoptotic stem cells (both mesenchymal and embryonic) through a distinct external cell surface distribution. On the basis of biocompatibility, efficient labeling, and apoptotic discrimination potential, it is suggested that IRIS Dots can serve as a promising stem cell tracking agent.