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.

Optical pacing of the embryonic heart


Light has been used to non-invasively alter the excitability of both neural and cardiac tissue1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10. Recently, pulsed laser light has been shown to be capable of eliciting action potentials in peripheral nerves and in cultured cardiomyocytes7,8,9,10. Here, for the first time, we demonstrate optical pacing of an intact heart in vivo. Pulsed 1.875-µm infrared laser light was used to lock the heart rate to the pulse frequency of the laser. A laser Doppler velocimetry signal was used to verify the pacing. At low radiant exposures, embryonic quail hearts were reliably paced in vivo without detectable damage to the tissue, indicating that optical pacing has great potential as a tool with which to study embryonic cardiac dynamics and development. In particular, optical pacing can be used to control the heart rate, thereby altering stresses and mechanically transduced signalling.

Your institute does not have access to this article

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.

Figure 1: Optical pacing set-up.
Figure 2: Pacing of the embryonic quail heart.
Figure 3: Threshold measurement.
Figure 4: TEM images after the optical pacing procedure.


  1. Allegre, G., Avrillier, S. & Albe-Fessard, D. Stimulation in the rat of a nerve fiber bundle by a short UV pulse from an excimer laser. Neurosci. Lett. 180, 261–264 (1994).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Balaban, P. et al. He–Ne laser irradiation of single identified neurons. Lasers Surg. Med. 12, 329–337, (1992).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Fork, R. L. Laser stimulation of nerve cells in aplysia. Science 171, 907–908 (1971).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Gimeno, M. A., Robets, C. M. & Webb, J. L. Acceleration of rate of the early chick embryo heart by visible light. Nature 214, 1014–1016 (1967).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Hirase, H., Nikolenko, V., Goldberg, J. H. & Yuste, R. Multiphoton stimulation of neurons. J. Neurobiol. 51, 237–247 (2002).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Nathan, R. D., Pooler, J. P. & DeHaan, R. L. Ultraviolet-induced alterations of beat rate and electrical properties of embryonic chick heart cell aggregates. J. Gen. Physiol. 67, 27–44 (1976).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Smith, N. I. et al. A femtosecond laser pacemaker for heart muscle cells. Opt. Express 16, 8604–8616 (2008).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Wells, J., Kao, C., Jansen, E. D., Konrad, P. & Mahadevan-Jansen, A. Application of infrared light for in vivo neural stimulation. J. Biomed. Opt. 10, 064003 (2005).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Wells, J. et al. Biophysical mechanisms of transient optical stimulation of peripheral nerve. Biophys. J. 93, 2567–2580 (2007).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Wells, J. et al. Optical stimulation of neural tissue in vivo. Opt. Lett. 30, 504–506 (2005).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Bartman, T. & Hove, J. Mechanics and function in heart morphogenesis. Dev. Dyn. 233, 373–381 (2005).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. North, T. E. et al. Hematopoietic stem cell development is dependent on blood flow. Cell 137, 736–748 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Pardanaud, L. & Eichmann, A. Stem cells: the stress of forming blood cells. Nature 459, 1068–1069 (2009).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Poelmann, R. E., Gittenberger-de Groot, A. C. & Hierck, B. P. The development of the heart and microcirculation: role of shear stress. Med. Biol. Eng. Comput. 46, 479–484 (2008).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Wells, J. D. et al. Optically mediated nerve stimulation: identification of injury thresholds. Lasers Surg. Med. 39, 513–526, (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. New, D. A. T. A new technique for the cultivation of the chick embryo in vitro. J. Embryol. Exp. Morphol. 3, 326–331 (1955).

    Google Scholar 

  17. Gargesha, M., Jenkins, M. W., Wilson, D. L. & Rollins, A. M. High temporal resolution OCT using image-based retrospective gating. Opt. Express 17, 10786–10799 (2009).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Jenkins, M. W. et al. in BiOS (SPIE, 2008).

    Google Scholar 

  19. Jenkins, M. W. et al. Ultrahigh-speed optical coherence tomography imaging and visualization of the embryonic avian heart using a buffered Fourier domain mode Locked laser. Opt. Express 15, 6251–6267 (2007).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Jenkins, M. W. et al. in BiOS (SPIE, 2009).

    Google Scholar 

  21. Darnell, D. K. & Schoenwolf, G. C. in Methods in Molecular Biology Vol. 135 (eds Tuan, R. S. & Lo, C. W.) Ch. 5, 31–38 (Humana Press, 2000).

    Google Scholar 

  22. Kalt, M. R. & Tandler, B. A study of fixation of early amphibian embryos for electron microscopy. J. Ultrastruct. Res. 36, 633–645 (1971).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Karnovsky, M. J. Use of ferrocyanide-reduced osmium tetroxide in electron microscopy. Abstracts of Papers, Eleventh Annual Meeting, New Orleans, LA, 146 (American Society for Cell Biology, 1971)

  24. Tandler, B. Improved uranyl acetate staining for electron microscopy. J. Electron Microsc. Tech. 16, 81–82 (1990).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Hanaichi, T. et al. A stable lead by modification of Sato's method. J. Electron Microsc. 35, 304–306 (1986).

    Google Scholar 

Download references


This research was supported in part by the National Institutes of Health (RO1-HL083048 (A.M.R.), RO1-HL095717 (A.M.R.), RO1-NS052407 (E.D.J.) and R44-NS051926 (E.D.J.). This investigation was conducted in a facility constructed with support from the Research Facilities Improvement Program grant no. C06 RR12463-01 from the National Center of Research Resources, National Institutes of Health. The authors appreciate the contributions of M. Hitomi in preparing embryos for TEM.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



M.W.J. conceived the original idea, performed and designed the experiments, analysed data and wrote the paper. A.R.D and S.G. performed and designed experiments and analysed data. Y.D. prepared and performed histology on the embryos and helped in preparing the embryos for TEM. H.J.C designed experiments and analysed data. H.F. supervised analysis and the creation of micrographs. M.W. supervised damage studies and embryo handling. E.D.J. and A.M.R. supervised optical pacing experiments. All authors helped to edit the paper. All authors except H.F. and Y.D. discussed the results and implications at all stages.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to A. M. Rollins.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary information

Supplementary information Figure (PDF 508 kb)

Supplementary information

Supplementary information Movie (MOV 9586 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Jenkins, M., Duke, A., Gu, S. et al. Optical pacing of the embryonic heart. Nature Photon 4, 623–626 (2010).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

Further reading


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