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.

Staining of living presynaptic nerve terminals with selective fluorescent dyes


Johnson et al. have recently shown that several positively charged, membrane-permeant fluorescent dyes can serve as vital stains for mitochondria in cultured cells1,2 (see also ref. 3). We report here that presynaptic nerve terminals, which are characteristically rich in mitochondria4,5, can also be vitally stained with such dyes, and that this staining offers a resolution of structural detail not available with previous methods for visualizing terminals in living tissues. The dyes have provided excellent, highly detailed fluorescence images of presynaptic motor nerve terminals at neuromuscular junctions in conventional live tissue preparations from mouse, frog and Drosophila. In addition, when tested at the frog neuromuscular junction, at least one of the dyes permitted visualization of terminals with little, if any, effect on synaptic transmission. Moreover, we have found that by using the dyes it is now also possible to see motor nerve terminals in situ in live animals.

Your institute does not have access to this article

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.


  1. Johnson, L. V., Walsh, M. L. & Ghen, L. B. Proc. natn. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 77, 990–994 (1980).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Johnson, L. V., Walsh, M. L., Bockus, B. J. & Chen, L. B. J. Cell Biol. 88, 526–535 (1981).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Hetherington, D. C. Stain Technol. 11, 153–154 (1936).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Gray, E. G. & Guillery, R. W. Int. Rev. Cytol. 19, 111–182 (1966).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Peters, A., Palay, S. L. & Webester, H. deF. The Fine Structure of the Nervous System: The Neurons and Supporting Cells (W. B. Saunders, Philadelphia, 1976).

    Google Scholar 

  6. McMahan, U. J., Spitzer, N. C. & Peper, K. Proc. R. Soc. B181, 421–430 (1972).

    ADS  Google Scholar 

  7. McArdle, J. J. et al. J. Neurosci. Meth. 4, 109–115 (1981).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Akert, K. & Sandri, C. Brain Res. 7, 286–295 (1968).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Jan, L. Y. & Jan, Y. N. J. Physiol., Lond. 262, 189–214 (1976).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Sims, P. J., Waggoner, A. S., Wang, C. H. & Hoffman, J. F. Biochemistry 13, 3315–3330 (1974).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

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

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Alnaes, E. & Rahamimoff, R. J. Physiol., Lond. 248, 285–306 (1975).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Waggoner, A. S. A. Rev. Biophys. Bioengng 8, 47–68 (1979).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Freedman, J. C. & Laris, P. C. Int. Rev. Cytol. Suppl. 12, 177–246 (1981).

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  15. McMahan, U. J. & Kuffller, S. W. Proc. R. Soc. B177, 485–508 (1971).

    ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Yoshikami, D., Okun, L. Staining of living presynaptic nerve terminals with selective fluorescent dyes. Nature 310, 53–56 (1984).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

Further reading


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