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PLoS One. 2013;8(3):e58260. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0058260. Epub 2013 Mar 13.

Membrane potential measurements of isolated neurons using a voltage-sensitive dye.

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Department of Neuro-Oncology, University Clinic Heidelberg, Heidelberg, Germany.


The ability to monitor changes in membrane potential is a useful tool for studying neuronal function, but there are only limited options available at present. Here, we have investigated the potential of a commercially available FLIPR membrane potential (FMP) dye, developed originally for high throughput screening using a plate reader, for imaging the membrane potential of cultured cells using an epifluorescence-based single cell imaging system. We found that the properties of the FMP dye make it highly suitable for such imaging since 1) its fluorescence displayed a high signal-to-noise ratio, 2) robust signals meant only minimal exposure times of around 5 ms were necessary, and 3) bidirectional changes in fluorescence were detectable resulting from hyper- or depolarising conditions, reaching equilibrium with a time constant of 4-8 s. Measurements were possible independently of whether membrane potential changes were induced by voltage clamping, or manipulating the ionic distribution of either Na(+) or K(+). Since FMP behaves as a charged molecule which accumulates in the cytosol, equations based on the Boltzmann distribution were developed determining that the apparent charge of FMP which represents a measure of the voltage sensitivity of the dye, is between -0.62 and -0.72. Finally, we demonstrated that FMP is suitable for use in a variety of neuronal cell types and detects membrane potential changes arising from spontaneous firing of action potentials and through stimulation with a variety of excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmitters.

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