Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Evidence for a charge-shift electrochromic mechanism in a probe of membrane potential


Extrinsic optical probes have become important tools for monitoring membrane potential, with probes now available for many tissue or cell suspension systems1. In each case that has been studied in detail2–4, it seems that the mechanism involves a shift in the equilibrium population of the probe from one chemical environment to another in response to the transmembrane potential; the environments perturb the probe's spectrum differently. As this indirect mechanism involves a redistribution of dye between chemical environments that are likely to vary if a given probe is transferred from one membrane to another, a potential probe that is effective and calibrated for all membrane systems has not been realised. We present here evidence for a direct response of a probe chromophore to the electric field across membrane systems. The results suggest it might be possible to develop a universal set of membrane probes.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Rent or buy this article

Get just this article for as long as you need it


Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout


  1. Cohen, L. B. & Salzberg, B. M. Rev. physiol. biochem. Pharmac. 83, 35–88 (1978).

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  2. Waggoner, A. S. & Grinvald, A. Ann. N.Y. Acad. Sci. 303, 217–241 (1977).

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  3. Waggoner, A. S., Wang, C. H. & Tolles, R. L. J. Membrane Biol. 33, 109–140 (1977).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  4. Waggoner, A. S. A. Rev. Biophys. Bioengng 8, 847–868 (1979).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Loew, L. M. et al. Biophys. J. 21, 206a (1978).

    Google Scholar 

  6. Loew, L. M., Bonneville, G. W. & Surow, J. Biochemistry 17, 4065–4071 (1978).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  7. Platt, J. R. J. chem. Phys. 25, 80–105 (1956); 34, 862–864 (1961).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  8. Liptay, W. Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 8, 177–188 (1969).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  9. Tien, H. T. Bilayer Lipid Membranes, 478–480, 483 (Dekker: New York, 1974).

    Google Scholar 

  10. Reich, R. & Schmidt, S. Ber. Bunsenges. Physik. Chem. 76, 589–598 (1972).

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  11. Loew, L. M., Simpson, L., Hassner, A. & Alexanian, V. J. Am. chem. Soc. 101, 5439–5440 (1979).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  12. Dragsten, P. R. & Webb, W. W. Biochemistry 17, 5228–5240 (1978).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  13. Loew, L. M., Simpson, L., Hassner, A. & Parkins, H. Biophys. J. 25, 302a (1979).

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Loew, L., Scully, S., Simpson, L. et al. Evidence for a charge-shift electrochromic mechanism in a probe of membrane potential. Nature 281, 497–499 (1979).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing