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Biophys J. 1994 Jul;67(1):208-16.

Dual-wavelength ratiometric fluorescence measurement of the membrane dipole potential.

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Department of Physiology, University of Connecticut Health Center, Farmington 06030.


The electrostatic potentials associated with cell membranes include the transmembrane potential (delta psi), the surface potential (psi s), and the dipole potential (psi D). psi D, which originates from oriented dipoles at the surface of the membrane, rises steeply just within the membrane to approximately 300 mV. Here we show that the potential-sensitive fluorescent dye 1-(3-sulfonatopropyl)-4-[beta[2-(di-n-octylamino)-6- naphthyl]vinyl]pyridinium betaine (di-8-ANEPPS) can be used to measure changes in the intramembrane dipole potential. Increasing the content of cholesterol and 6-ketocholestanol (KC), which are known to increase psi D in the bilayer, results in an increase in the ratio, R, of the dye fluorescence excited at 440 nm to that excited at 530 nm in a lipid vesicle suspension; increasing the content of phloretin, which lowers psi D, decreases R. Control experiments show that the ratio is insensitive to changes in the membrane's microviscosity. The lack of an isosbestic point in the fluorescence excitation and emission spectra of the dye at various concentrations of KC and phloretin argues against 1:1 chemical complexation between the dye and KC or phloretin. The macromolecular nonionic surfactant Pluronic F127 catalyzes the insertion of KC and phloretin into lipid vesicle and cell membranes, permitting convenient and controlled modulation of dipole potential. The sensitivity of R to psi D is 10-fold larger than to delta psi, whereas it is insensitive to changes in psi S. This can be understood in terms of the location of the dye chromophore with respect to the electric field profile associated with each of these potentials. These results suggest that the gradient in dipole potential occurs over a span s5 A, a short distance below the membrane-water interface. These approaches are easily adaptable to study the influence of dipole potentials on cell membrane physiology.

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